Nel's New Day

May 20, 2019

Watch DDT’s Stonewalling Crumble

 

Personal issues have kept me from writing the past week, but today’s news is so outstanding that I couldn’t resist writing about it. (Within the next few days, I’ll catch up on last week’s news.)

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), who is frantically trying to hide all his personal affairs from the public, lost big in court for a beginning fight with Congress. A federal judge upheld a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee for eight years of DDT’s tax returns from his accounting firm, Mazars USA, and rejected arguments from DDT’s lawyers that Congress has no power to obtain the files. These records could show financial misconduct by DDT and his associates.

The judge’s ruling is in accord with opinion from the Supreme Court that Congress has the power to collect “needed information” as a fundamental “attribute of the power to legislate” for the constitutional authority to Congress for all “legislative Powers.” The Constitution also bans courts from interfering with congressional subpoenas issued for legitimate legislative purpose. Courts cannot search for some covert illicit motive from Congress. The judge stated that the House Oversight Committee met this low hurdle.

The Oversight Committee listed four reasons to investigate DDT’s finances:

Accurate finance reporting to the Office of Goverment Ethics to help Congress determine “whether reforms are necessary to address deficiencies with current laws, rules, and regulations.” That goal clearly “falls within the legislative sphere.”

Complying with the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause that bars a president from accepting gifts from foreign governments without congressional consent.

Failing to disclose “conflicts of interest that may impair his ability to make impartial policy decisions” regarding legislation about ethics of government officials.

Engaging “in illegal conduct before and during his tenure in office.”

The judge noted that the Watergate scandal led to new legislation, including laws on transparency and oversight. DDT’s argument, he wrote, “flies in the face of decades of legislation covering the President.”

In his 41-page ruling, the judge wrote:

“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct—past or present—even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

In opposition to the argument from DDT’s lawyers that Congress was usurping the DOJ’s powers to investigate “dubious and partisan” allegations of private conduct, the judge said that a congressional investigation into illegal conduct before and during a president’s time in office fits “comfortably” with Congress’s broad investigative powers, which include an “informing function,” or the power to expose corruption.

The judge also wrote that the House Oversight Committee had “facially valid legislative purposes” for its subpoena:

“It is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.”

The judge refused a stay until DDT’s lawyers can appeal his finding. He gave them seven days for an appeal, and Mazars has seven days to turn over DDT’s tax returns. The judge wrote:

“The court is well aware that this case involves records concerning the private and business affairs of the President of the United States. But on the question of whether to grant a stay pending appeal, the President is subject to the same legal standard as any other litigant that does not prevail.”

DDT keeps complaining about how no other president has ever faced this situation, but DDT is unique in never having disclosed his tax returns, declining to divest from his extensive business dealings including those with foreigners abroad, and refusing to put his assets in a blind trust. His former lawyer Michael Cohen has testified under oath about DDT’s fraudulently inflating and deflating the same assets’ value to benefit his business transactions.

The judge opened by comparing DDT’s lawsuit to President James Buchanan’s similar effort to block an investigation into his affairs and noted that DDT has “taken up [Buchanan’s] fight.” The judge reported that he declined to put his ruling on hold while DDT appeals because the president failed to raise a “serious legal question going to the merits.” James Buchanan, one of the country’s worst leaders who blamed for failing to prevent the Civil War, also whined about about “harassing” congressional inquiries. The judge also pointed out that Congress began its investigation into Bill Clinton before he entered the White House and noted:

“Congress plainly views itself as having sweeping authority to investigate illegal conduct of a President, before and after taking office. This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.”

In another attempt to hide from House investigation, DDT ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to ignore a subpoena to appear before the House tomorrow to testify about his interviews with Robert Mueller for his investigation. No longer employed by the government, McGahn is the second after Mazars to test DDT’s success in his demand to resist “all” subpoenas by House members. Earlier, McGahn followed White House directions when he defied a subpoena by refusing to provide documents shared with Mueller relevant to the House inquiry into potential abuses of power.

The DOJ has provided a 15-page opinion stating that McGahn cannot be forced to testify, but it uses no case law to support the opinion. Instead, it is based on past DOJ legal memos. DDT is claiming “executive privilege” to keep the House from obtaining any information, but this privilege can’t be used to hide potential evidence of a crime.If the House holds McGahn in contempt of Congress for not appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, as Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has threatened, McGahn could face disbarment.

The claim from DDT’s lawyers that other administrations have given senior aides “absolute immunity” resulted in failure by other administrations. A judge appointed by George W. Bush ruled that W.’s former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, could not reject a subpoena, and W. didn’t appeal the ruling. One of President Obama’s appointed judges ruled against privilege for documents whose “sum and substance” were already revealed in a public inspector general report.

On Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee will vote whether to enforce its subpoena for the release of still-redacted portions of Mueller’s report and certain underlying materials. That day, DDT, his three eldest children, and his company go to court in an attempt to block a subpoena from the House Financial Services Committee for DDT’s bank records from Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One as well as documents related to “possible money-laundering by people in Russia and Eastern Europe.”

New revelations show that DDT’s and Jared Kushner’s accounts at Deutsche Bank were flagged in summer 2016 for possible money laundering transactions but not turned over to authorities. After money in Kushner Companies was moved to Russians, “a suspicious activity report” and supporting documents were moved to Deutsche’s private-banking division in New York where managers have a relationship with Kushner. The same situation occurred with DDT’s transactions. No information was filed with the Treasury Department, as law requires. The person reporting the suspicious activity was first told to ignore it and was then fired after she pursued it.

In 2004, despite knowing that DDT inflated his net worth, Deutsche Bank lent DDT over $500 million to build a 92-story building in Chicago. The bank also were told DDT had “worked with people in the construction industry connected to organized crime.” Ten years later, the bank was willing to massively exaggerate its vouching that DDT’s net worth was $8.7 billion for him to buy the Buffalo Bills.

With a history of corruption, Deutsche Bank paid hundreds of millions in penalties and is now required to increase its efforts to prevent illicit activities.

The House Intelligence Committee released transcripts of Michael Cohen’s private interviews, including how DDT’s lawyers told him to lie to Congress in his testimony. A person with ties to DDT also suggested Cohen could be pardoned for his discreet testimony. Details here.

While DDT is trying to avoid subpoenas and transparency about his affairs, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) has infuriated Republicans by being the first GOP legislator to claim that DDT “engaged in impeachable conduct” based on the Mueller report. GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) then smeared and lied about Amash, who does ask questions in hearings. At least 68 percent of Amash’s votes are with DDT. Conservatives are now peddling the conspiracy theory that Amash plans to run against DDT for president in 2020.

Amash’s Twitter thread provides background for his position, including his claim that DDT’s fixer AG Bill Barr had “deliberately misrepresented” the findings. Amash pointed out that “few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report.” He tweeted:

“When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law—the foundation of liberty—crumbles.”

We hope that liberty will cause DDT’s stonewalling to crumble. [Thanks to Cynthia Cox Cottam for the above image.]

[Note: Those who wish to read more about the news above and/or factcheck the material may wish to use the links.]

April 11, 2019

Barr, Others Face Congressional Hearings

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has done one smart thing for himself: with the help of corrupt GOP, he put Bill Barr into the DOJ leadership. Much has been written about Barr’s protection of DDT for the past two days in hearings about his “Barr Report,” a bastardized interpretation of Mueller’s investigation. But before that, Barr put DDT above the Constitution. Thanks to Barr, DDT’s financial benefits from foreign payments to his hotels, resorts, condos, and trademarks have been exempted from the emolument clause: foreign countries can pander to DDT as much as they want by paying inflated prices at his facilities. The justification is that DDT doesn’t get the money because of his “official capacity” because it’s related only to his private business.

Barr also supports DDT by lying for him. “I support the president’s policy, which is we’re not going to separate families,” Barr said two days before DDT fired his DHS secretary for refusing to separate families. About the Affordable Care Act, Barr said that DDT supports protections for people with pre-existing conditions while Barr goes to court to eliminate the ACA. Today, Barr continued his lying during testimony before House Appropriations Committee and its chair Nita Lowey (D-NY), ignoring how transparent his falsehoods are. He claimed that DDT had no warning about Russia targeting DDT’s first presidential campaign despite media coverage to the contrary. From NBC reporting on December 18, 2017:

“In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter. The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said.”

Like a squid shooting ink, Barr tried to cover up for DDT and Republicans though his obfuscations and lies. He told committee members that he was “concerned” that the government during President Obama’s administration had “spied” on DDT’s campaign although he admitted he had no evidence. Going beyond protecting DDT with redactions, Barr plans an investigation into Russia’s “spying” against DDT’s first presidential campaign.

About his claim, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote under the heading of “Trump Toady”:

“This is the language of a PR spinner, not the attorney general of the United States. As my colleague Aaron Blake points out, ‘spying’ is a loaded phrase and a political accusation.”

Congressional members were disturbed by Barr’s bizarre allegations:

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that Barr’s words contradicted previous Department of Justice communications and asked for an immediate briefing to clarify the issue.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said he had been told nothing about any spying on DDT’s campaign and that “almost seems to be endorsing one of these theories that has been debunked time and time again.” Warner added that Barr’s comments are “disrespectful” to Department of Justice employees.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, argued “the top law enforcement officer of the country should not casually suggest that those under his purview engaged in ‘spying’ on a political campaign” and that Barr’s “partisan talking point … strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”

Barr couldn’t even answer questions on issues other than the Mueller investigation.

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) asked in the hearing about people losing health care coverage if Barr succeeds in helping to overturn the ACA because there is no replacement. Barr said, “If this is such a hokey position to have, what are you worried about?” Adding that healthcare is a policy issue, Barr added, “I’m a lawyer. I’m not in charge of health care.”

Barr didn’t know that the DOJ, his own department, found a 17-percent rise in hate crimes in 2017.

At least the redacted pages won’t be all black. Barr plans to color-code his redactions and add “explanatory notes” for each redaction. He plans to redact information in four categories: classified information, current investigations, and peripheral people not charged with a crime. Barr denies that DDT would fit into this category, but he also lies. “Executive privilege” might also be redacted. Barr won’t ask a federal court to allow Congress to see grand jury material. If Nadler wants to see it, he can ask the court, Barr said.

Some salient comments from Barr’s hearing yesterday:

Asked specifically whether the investigation was a witch hunt, Barr said, “it depends on where you sit.”

Asked if the White House has seen or been briefed on Mueller’s report, Barr said, “I’m not going to say anything more about it.” [Sounds like, “Yes, but I don’t want to admit it.” Richard Nixon’s AG John Mitchell went to prison for 19 months for conducting obstruction on Nixon’s behalf by briefing him on investigations.] Earlier he had said that he had not consulted

Barr plans to release his [heavily] redacted report “within a week” but won’t talk about it until then. Congress is on recess for the next two weeks.

Barr’s misrepresentation in his four-page summary of the Mueller report that clears DDT of obstruction of justice has disturbed members of the investigative team who found “alarming and significance” evidence of this obstruction. They also found that evidence of collusion was “compelling.” Barr said that Mueller did not review the Barr Report before he submitted it to Congress.

The “Spygate” that Barr intends to “investigate”started with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) when he maintained that the surveillance of Carter Page, which started over a year before DDT announced his first campaign, was politically motivated. Nunes had a lot to say but never read the intelligence surrounding the FISA issued for Page by four GOP-appointed judges. Investigation of the infamous Steele dossier, created through an investigation to find damaging information about DDT and other GOP candidates by conservative Paul Singer, also revealed that it did not trigger the FBI investigation into Russian influence over the U.S. election. Singer pulled his funding for the project after Sen. Marco Rubio pulled out of his presidential campaign.

Jubilant about Barr’s testimony, DDT repeatedly shouts, “They spied. They spied!” He also asserted, “I have not read the Mueller report. I won. No collusion, no obstruction. I won. Everybody knows I won.” A majority of people, 56 percent, think that DDT and his campaign have not been exonerated. The investigation is still in play. DDT commonly claims that “everybody knows ….” Here are 30 examples.

Barr wasn’t the only person testifying to Congress this week. Jeffrey Rosen faced fire at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for a position to replace Rod Rosenstein as deputy AG by refusing to firmly commit to making special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia probe public.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had a contentious appearance before the House Financial Services Committee when he tried to give weak excuses for the IRS breaking the law by failing to give Congress six years of DDT’s tax returns. Mnuchin said that DDT already won the 2016 election and had disclosed some information about personal finances. He also said that Kevin Brady hadn’t requested specific returns; President Obama voluntarily disclosed his tax returns every year. A GOP chair obtained tax returns in 2014 from conservative and liberal nonprofit groups claiming tax-exempt status.

When Mnuchin maintained that he had to leave for an “important meeting,” the back and forth erupted into Mnuchin petulantly telling Chair Maxine Waters with appropriate hand gestures, “Please dismiss everybody. I believe you’re supposed to take the gravel [sic] and bang it.” The exchange is well worth watching.

About releasing his tax returns, DDT’s excuse is “the people don’t care.” A majority of people, 51 percent, want Democrats to require DDT to release his returns. Even more, 64 percent, want DDT to voluntarily release his tax returns. IRS officials said that being under audit, DDT’s excuse, does not prevent people from releasing returns. DDT’s assertion, that there’s “no law whatsoever” for turning over his tax returns, also doesn’t hold water. A 1924 statute gives some congressional leaders access to anyone’s tax returns.  in this area, he’s overlooking one inconvenient statute. The only reason to hide DDT’s tax returns is if they contain incriminating information.

February 27, 2019

U.S. House Keeps Busy Despite Jim Jordan’s Complaints

For people who have been watching the situation with former fixer Michael Cohen for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), his testimony today before the House Oversight Committee held few surprises. Points from today:

  • Republican committee members did not try to refute anything he said; they just tried to smear him.
  • The GOP smears against Cohen—that he’s a “pathological liar”—can also be said about DDT, the man who Republicans were defending.
  • Cohen said that he had tried to cover for DDT during the past ten years in the same way that Republicans are doing now.
  • With this comment about protection, he added, “The more people that suffer Donald Trump, as I did blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I did.”
  • Reporters following DDT in Vietnam for his meeting with North Korea president Kim Jong-Un were banned from his presence after asking questions about the Cohen testimony.

Pieces of Cohen’s testimony that many people already assumed:

  • DDT is a “racist,” “conman,” and “cheat.”
  • Cohen quoted DDT as saying that black people were “too stupid” to vote for him and during a drive through a poor section of Chicago said that “only black people could live that way.” Cohen added, “The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes.’ “In private, he is even worse.”
  • Cohen has checks (which he produced), evidence “as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud,” directed by his son and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization Allen Weisselberg, to quiet a former adult film actor.
  • DDT told Cohen to lie about his affair with the actor to his wife, Melania.
  • Cohen said he presided over “several” “catch-and-kill” arrangements between David Pecker and DDT for the National Enquirer to purchase exclusive rights for stories damaging to DDT and then suppress the stories.
  • DDT inflated his wealth to appear on lists of rich people rich lists and falsely reduce it to avoid paying taxes.
  • To a question from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cohen said that DDT’s tax returns would be helpful in showing how DDT sharply reduced his tax costs by undervaluing his parents’ real estate holdings.
  • Cohen believes that DDT’s tax returns were not being audited in 2016 although that’s what DDT claimed.
  • DDT told Cohen that he didn’t release his tax returns because he might get audited and face big taxes and penalties.
  • Roger Stone communicated with WikiLeaks for the release of hacked Democratic party emails during the 2016 presidential election.
  • DDT knew about the June 2017 Trump Tower meeting among members of his campaign with a Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
  • DDT used his charity’s money to pay for portrait of himself after driving up the price to impress people.

Cohen finished his testimony by saying:

“Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”

Cohen’s described DDT as a mobster-like president, who told Cohen to shortchange suppliers, keep schools from releasing his student grades by threatening them, and deal with negative media about DDT’s Vietnam War draft dodging. Cohen said he had probably threatened a person because of DDT’s instructions at least 500 times. “Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not make his country great,” said Cohen. “He ran to market himself and build his wealth and power.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under investigation by the Florida Bar because of a tweet that appears to be an attempt to intimidate DDT’s former fixer Michael Cohen the day before he started his open testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Gaetz’s tweet:

“Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…”

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), a former DA and federal prosecutor, asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate Gaetz’s tweet because it “clearly defines witness tampering and intimidation.” Her request that could lead to an official investigation and possibly a reprimand, censure or fine. An expulsion would require a two-thirds majority of the House. Asked about why he wrote the tweet, Gaeta said, “The tweet speaks for itself.” Later he deleted the tweet and apologized for sending it.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) attacked Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) during the hearing, falsely accusing him of using his first hearing to start removing DDT from office. Cummings ended the session by talking about the committee’s earlier hearings. The first hearing was on January 29, 2019 concerned the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs; Cummings noted that a young man had died because of these escalating costs. He also told Jordan that they had a hearing on H.R. 1, which was about voter suppression and executive branch ethics. That one was on February 6, 2019. “We can do more than one thing,” Cummings said. “And we have got to get back to normal.” The GOP House was notable for not having hearings before votes.

Credibly accused of ignoring sexual abuse of athletes while he was assistant coach at Ohio State University, Jordan’s accusations of Cohen’s lying and lack of remorse rang hollow to many watchers. Jordan claimed that Cummings had “stacked the deck against the truth” and ranted about Hillary Clinton conspiracies, calling Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis a “Clinton operative.” Then he raged about Democrats doing what Tom Steyer tells them and that Steyer had organized a town hall in Cummings’ Maryland district.

Asked if he believed Cohen, Cummings referenced his history with the law when he said he found him “credible” and that it “appears” that DDT committed a crime. Cummings added, “I think that there are still a number of shoes to drop.”

The House has been far busier than Republicans might like. This week, representatives passed a resolution to overturn DDT’s emergency declaration that takes money for various sources to build his wall without congressional approval. Thirteen Republicans voted with Democrats in the 245-182 vote. According to law, the Senate will be required to vote on the House resolution within 18 days, a March 18 deadline. Three GOP senators—Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Thom Tillis (NC)— have indicated they will vote for the House bill, and others are questioning the sensibility of the national emergency, especially if a future president is a Democrat. Two more GOP votes are needed for a simple majority if all Democrats and independents vote in favor of it. A veto from DDT for any bill passed requires two-thirds support in each congressional chamber.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), ranking member of the Committee on Rules, read a complaint about the lack of time for representatives to review the 70-word bill although Republicans passed the $1.5 trillion, 1,097-page tax bill a few hours after it was completed.

The House also passed a bipartisan bill requiring all gun sellers to conduct background checks on firearm sales by a 240-190. With five GOP co-sponsors, the bill received eight GOP votes and lost two Democrat votes. It expands background checks on private sales, including those at gun shows, on the internet, and through classified ads. The bill is the first significant gun control vote since the Senate failed to pass similar bipartisan legislation in 2013. Another bill is due for a vote that would extend the review period on gun sales.

Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee voted to subpoena the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services for documents about the separation of families at the southern border. Cummings said that the documents submitted to the committee were not sufficient and failed to answer committee questions. Two Republicans, Justin Amash (MI) and Chip Roy (TX), voted with Democrats for the subpoenas. Again Jordan attacked Cummings, saying: “You just wanted to be first.” Cummings pointed out that the request was the same as the bipartisan request from eight months ago.

Other House actions:

The House is doing a lot to make Jim Jordan angry.

February 12, 2019

GOP Builds on Former Hypocrisy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) listed “American Indian” on her 1986 application for the Texas bar because he family had told her of her Native American background. We’re shocked, despite her DNA shows some Native American ancestry generations in the past.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) family received $7.6 million in government contracts for its company, Vortex Construction, through a program with no-bid contracts for “disadvantaged minorities.” McCarthy’s brother-in-law William Wages told the Small Business Administration that he’s one-eighth Cherokee in the Northern Cherokee Nation with “no federal or state recognition as a legitimate tribe.” The media largely ignored this fraud.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam may have posed for a photograph over 30 years ago either in blackface or in a KKK costume, and the country is questioning whether he should resign.

DDT called neo-Nazi’s at the Charlottesville (VA) racist marches “very fine people” even after they caused the death of Heather Heyer, severely beat a man, and terrorized thousands of others. After his racist comments, DDT was described as appointed by God. He also demanded the death penalty for the young black and Latino men, the Central Park Five, and refused to apologize after their convictions were vacated. DDT continually—and falsely—accused President Barack Obama of being born in Kenyan, called undocumented immigrants rapists and murderers, ridicules Native Americans, and made more racist remarks.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tweeted about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee paying lawmakers to be pro-Israel. When she was accused of being anti-Semite for her factual statement, she immediately apologized:

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Omar said. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

DDT—who made multiple racist comments—called for Omar’s resignation, and Republicans demanded that she be stripped of her committee appointments. While campaigning, DDT accused Jewish donors of wanting to control politicians and called them “negotiators.” The Anti-Defamation League, which censured Omar, defended DDT. The “very fine people” who DDT protected in Charlottesville (VA) were shouting “Jews will not replace us.” He uses the anti-Jewish slur “globalist” to describe his opposition and vilified Holocaust survivor George Soros, as did McCarthy who called for sanctions on Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), another Muslim who criticized Israel. No Republican criticized McCarthy when he accused Soros of  trying to “buy the election,” a statement that sent a bomb to Soros’ home.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who supported DDT’s anti-Muslim travel ban that blocked entry to the U.S. for everyone from Omar’s native country of Somalia, has harassed Omar since the 116th Congress was sworn in. His attacks on her led to his claim that he would declare her as a hateful anti-Semite if she didn’t vote for the bill penalizing anyone boycotting Israel and has worked for over a month to have her removed from the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations because of her religion. Not one Republican complained about Zeldin’s disgusting comments. (In researching this piece, I also discovered that using terms such as hypnotize, manipulate, and conspiracy are anti-Semitic. Who knew?!)

Steve King may be the most amazing case of GOP hypocrisy. Despite the GOP representative’s ongoing racism, Republicans did nothing about King’s bigotry until he declared that the term “white supremacy” might be acceptable.

2002: In the Iowa State Senate, King filed a bill requiring schools to teach that the U.S. “derived it strength from … Christianity,” and sponsored a law making English the official language of Iowa.

2005: In the House, he introduced the bill to make English the official language of the U.S.

2006: King advocated a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border and falsely claimed that 25 people in the U.S. died daily because of undocumented immigrants, a statement that DDT has repeated. His prototype of the wall, which he showed on the House floor, called for electrified wire on the top. King said, “We do that with livestock all the time.”

2010: On the House floor, King said that law enforcement can spot undocumented immigrants by “what kind of clothes people wear … what kind of shoes people wear, what kind of accent they have … sometimes it’s just a sixth sense they can’t put their finger on.”

2011: King opposed the coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act because “birth control is “not constructive to our culture and our civilization.”

2012: He described multiculturalism as “a tool for the Left to subdivide a culture and civilization into our own little ethnic enclaves and pit us against each other.”

2013: In opposing legal status for Dreamers, brought into the country as children, he said:

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

2015: King invited the far-right, anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders to Washington and appeared with him at the Capitol, praising him for having “the guts to speak out.” Wilders has called Islam “not a religion,” said the Quran was “worse than Mein Kampf,” and called for the closing of mosques. The two men posed in front of a portrait of Winston Churchill.

2016: At the RNC, King avowed that nonwhite groups have not contributed as much to civilization as whites. Days later, he said:

“The idea of multiculturalism, that every culture is equal — that’s not objectively true … We’ve been fed that information for the past 25 years, and we’re not going to become a greater nation if we continue to do that.”

Meeting again with Wilders and Frauke Petry, the leader of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, in Amsterdam, King tweeted, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.” Endorsing Wilders in the Dutch elections, King tweeted, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” In Austria, King also met with leaders of the far-right Freedom Party founded in the 1950s by former Nazis, including Heinz-Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer.

2017: On Iowa talk radio, King recommended The Camp of the Saints, a 1973 racist 1973 novel about an invasion of Europe by nonwhite immigrants. He also tweeted agreement with Viktor Orban, Hungary’s authoritarian leader: “Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”

2018: Mr. King wanted to block Somali Muslims from working in Iowa meatpacking plants saying, “I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.” He also reinforced his belief in The Camp of the Saints:

“This narrative should be imprinted into everyone’s brain. When you are importing people, even importing one single person, you are importing their culture.”

He also supports the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory positing that an international elite, including prominent Jews such as George Soros, are plotting to make white populations minorities in Europe and North America. King endorsed Faith Goldy, a neo-Nazi supporter, for Toronto mayor.

2019: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said in an interview with the New York Times. At that point, McCarthy, House Minority Leader, and GOP House members stripped King of his committee appointments, but that may not be permanent.

King was a national co-chairman of Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential effort and of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ 2018 election. House leadership made him chair of the subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice, and DDT boasted from the Oval Office that he raised more money for King than for anyone else. Only when King questioned why “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” became “offensive,” did Republicans think they should take a bit of action—and even then, there was no talk of censure. King described his being stripped of committee assignments as a political witch hunt, a popular claim by racists these days.

And Rep. Ilham Omar (D-MN) was damned because she told the truth about AIPAC donating money to U.S. lawmakers.

Congressional Republicans:

  • Hate “socialized medicine” but insist on keeping their own “socialized” federal insurance.
  • Praise “democracy” while keeping people from voting and removing elected leaders from other countries.
  • Call for “humanitarian crisis” aid while killing thousands of innocent civilians in the Middle East.
  • Laud family values while pandering to a serial adulterer in the Oval Office who gained his position through lying, fraud, and bigotry.
  • Fight for barriers on the border while hiring undocumented immigrants to work for them at slave wages.
  • Demand law and order while supporting access to assault rifles for psychopaths and terrorists.
  • Ban guns except for their own personal protection.
  • Claim they want local over central government unless they don’t like local laws.
  • Oppose all abortions unless they are for their girlfriends and mistresses.
  • Object to crime unless it’s by a GOP candidate violently attacked a reporter, choked him, and then lied to the police about his crime.
  • Call for neither deficit nor national debt unless the money goes to the wealthy and big business.
  • Mandate an investigation into FBI supposed partisan views while putting unqualified partisan hacks into federal positions and on the nation’s courts.
  • Criticize any Democratic delay in confirming appointments after delaying a Democrat’s Supreme Court appointment for almost a year as a gift to a GOP president.

And that’s the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg.

August 9, 2018

Lack of Transparency in Agency Control

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 12:02 AM
Tags: , , , ,

Although the Senate has blocked very few of nominees by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), some of his appointments don’t require confirmation. Such is the case of actor Steven Seagal, the new special envoy to Russia, an unpaid position with the goal of working with “humanitarian issues” and improving ties between the two countries. Seagal admires Vladimir Putin, calling him “one of the great living world leaders,” and defends Russia from statements that it interfered in U.S. elections. Several women including Portia di Rossi, Julianna Margulies, and Jenny McCarthy have accused Seagal of sexual misconduct. Two other women claimed that Seagal had sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers.

Robert Wilkie, former aide to late GOP Jesse Helms (R-NC), has recently been confirmed as head of Veterans Affairs. In his work for Helms, Wilkie supported the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Confederate flag while belonging to Sons of Confederate Veterans. Wilkie also opposed equal pay for women when he worked for Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) and suggested that women graduate from high school before they receive welfare. As executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party in 1996-1997, the anti-LGBTQ Wilkie played a part in developing DDT’s transgender ban. Wilkie’s confirmation vote of 86-9 was the first time that any VA Secretary had received opposition votes. One of his goals is to privatize health care for veterans.

Wilkie’s confirmation may not run the VA, however, because three DDT friends and Mar-a-Lago members are actually calling the shots in the agency, according to information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach doctor who runs “concierge” medical care; Ike Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment; and Marc Sherman, lawyer, steer policies at the VA, make personnel decisions, and tell its officials what to do although none of them has served in the U.S. military or government—or been nominated and/or confirmed. The secret Mar-a-Lago Crowd, as they are known, have neither accountability nor oversight but push their pet causes and demand that they run everything. One proposal is to have private health care executive tell the VA what services should be outsourced to the private health care providers. Before David Shulkin, the former VA director, left, he communicated with the triumvirate on his private cellphone and with his private email address, breaking federal records laws as people have constantly told Hillary Clinton. The “Crowd” decided to get rid of Shulkin because of differences in opinion regarding how to improve the VA’s electronic record-keeping software. Wilkie is currently the pet of the threesome, but they can always decide to get rid of him too.

Scott Hutchins, the pesticide executive appointed as the chief scientist for the USDA, could be the third person to switch from Dow Chemical’s pesticide/seed division to make high-level federal decisions. Of the first two, one leads USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service, and the other, a lobbyist for Dow, has been confirmed as undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. As pesticide promoter, Hutchins would control the USDA’s $2.9 billion research budget. Dow Chemical donated $1 million to DDT’s inaugural committee, leading to a variety of governmental favors for the company. DDT’s last nominee for Hutchins’ position, Sam Clovis, had to withdraw his name after publicity about his involvement in the Russia scandal.

Scott Pruitt’s scandals may no longer be a focus of the EPA, but its new acting secretary, Andrew Wheeler, faces his first lawsuit and call for an ethics probe from repeated concerns about conflicts of interest. The former coal lobbyist had at least three meetings with previous clients during his first month and participated in events including the head of a company that he was prohibited from working with. Wheeler’s next lawsuit may come from DDT’s insistence that he roll back California’s waiver to control greenhouse emissions. Seth Meyers has provided an update on Wheeler’s EPA leadership—rolling back coal industry regulations so that companies can more easily “dispose” of toxic coal ash waste. A member of the EPA board of science advisers, Robert Phalen, thinks that our air is too clean.

In the past four months, DDT has named 69 new appointees, some of them awful and the rest worse. Check here for an overview.

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of the Commerce Department, may have replaced Scott Pruitt as the biggest creature among DDT’s swamp pets. In justifying Ross’ appointment, DDT explained, “In these positions, I just don’t want a poor person.” The conservative publication Forbes has explained why Ross is so wealthy: he’s a “grifter.” A former Ross employee settled a $4 million lawsuit against his old boss two weeks before the trial, in which he alleged that “Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork.” Other allegations against Ross go from refusal to pay workers to a pattern in which he typically stole a few million from a number of people that totaled up to $120 million. Dan Alexander reported:

“Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. ‘He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,’ says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: ‘He’s a pathological liar.’”

Ross’ company lost money in a rising stock market and got into trouble by overcharging investors on underperforming funds. A lawsuit claims that he illegally charges management fees from current and former company executives as well as outside clients. He also kept the portion of fees for serving on the boards of his firm’s portfolio companies instead of rebates to investors as required. When he sold part of the company, Ross managed to bolster it up and reap an undeserved price through higher evaluation. Ross also falsified his situation on a sworn document almost nine months, asserting he had divested all the assets as promised but still owned between $10 million and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross’ parent company, Invesco. He waited to sell his shares to make more than $1.2 million.

Forbes claims that Ross lies about how much money he has, sometimes inflating the sum into the billions. A fair guess could be $700, although he cheats on what should be small amounts to him such as the $73,000 stake in Air Lease. He sold the shares a year after he promised to carry out the transaction. Investors claims that heads of private equity firms always know what they own, but Ross always claims ignorance.

Jake Johnson wrote:

“Wilbur Ross is a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat with no interest in anyone but himself. He has shady ties to Russia and China, serious business conflicts, and a history of cheating people out of their homes.”

Ross maintains significant financial conflicts of interest, according to the Forbes investigation, and shorted stock on a Putin-related shipping company before share prices dropped because of an imminent negative story about his personal connection with the company. His investment conflicts also include companies co-owned by the Chinese government and a Cypriot bank in the Mueller investigation and in the industry Ross is investigating. Forbes reported that Ross has a history of lying and dodge questions about assets and holdings by claiming that he has divested when he actually set up trusts and handed assets to his family. Ross’ connection with the Cypriot bank gives him strong ties to Russian oligarchs, including Viktor Vekselberg who gave Michael Cohen’s consulting business over $500,000.

As co-founder of the Bank of Cyprus, a mail drop for moving Russian money to real estate “purchases” in the U.S., Ross may appear in Robert Mueller’s investigations. His partner, Dmitry Rybolovlev gave DDT $100 million for a $40 million property in Florida. Paul Manafort used Ross’ bank for funds funneled from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska with the pretense of a “loan.”

Firings:

Reagan Hedlund, Melania Trump’s policy aide, has been fired, but no one is explaining why. She was in charge of such programs as the “Be Best” anti-bullying initiative. The departure further shrinks the First Lady’s office of ten staff members.

The Future:

Hope Hicks, ex-girlfriend of and White House defense author for DDT’s fired aide Rob Porter for domestic abuse, left the White House soon after that debacle closed, but she was seen boarding Air Force One to travel with DDT to his Ohio campaign rally. Hicks resigned the day after she told the House Intelligence Committee that she told “white lies” on her job. DDT’s encounter with Hicks might be considered witness tampering because she testified about helping to draft DDT’s original statement on his son’s Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 at a time when DDT is frequently tweeting about the meeting. Hicks said that she is willing to become DDT’s chief of staff although John Kelly said that he is staying until the end of DDT’s four-year term.

It’s the summer doldrums while the Senate tries to put together enough Republicans to push through DDT’s judicial nominees. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) slowed down the process when he left Washington. His temporary departure left the Judiciary Committee at a 10-10 contest between Dems and the GOP. As for moving Brett Kavanaugh toward the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) requested his records from the National Archives. When it couldn’t meet McConnell’s August 15 deadline, he said “never mind” to getting three years of records on him while he was White House staff secretary. The Dems is trying a different route, filing a Freedom of Information Act, something that has never happened before.

Polling on Kavanaugh becoming a justice doesn’t bode well.

August 2, 2017

Congress, DDT Leaving D.C. with Little to Show

The House left Washington, D.C. last week for an extended vacation, but not after they did a bit of harm. In an article for Nation, “Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for Endless War,” John Nichols refers to the House Speaker’s stripping an amendment from the defense budget that unanimously passed in committee. He did it after midnight and with no debate, floor vote, or consultation with anyone except the GOP House leadership. The U.S. Constitution does not give the president power to wage war, but Congress passed a 60-word bill allowing the president to send military forces against groups linked to the 9/11 attacks. DDT no longer restricts his hostile actions against countries throughout the world to fighting ISIS. The amendment would have required Congress to following the constitution by reverting to congressional approval for military action. It even has support from within the Pentagon. Even General Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wants the 2001 law revoked.

The title of the article, however, could have been far more general: it could have been just “Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump.” Republicans in the House have been largely mum after DDT’s egregious actions and proposals. Even when DDT suggested that he could pardon his family, his associates, and himself, few GOP representatives objected. To accept pardons from the president, people had to admit that they committed the crimes for which they are pardoned. Thus DDT is considering the admission that he committed crimes, but little word from Republicans in the House.

When Democrats requested documents in the House Judiciary Committee about the firing of former FBI director James Comey, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) flipped the proposal into an amendment to ask the Justice Department for documents related to Comey’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email service. The witch hunt is back on to divert attention away from DDT’s Russia collusion. In the new administration, only GOP congressional members are permitted to asked for any documents; no Democrats need apply. The committee passed Gaetz’s amendment on a partisan vote of 16-13.

A failure in the House is the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling that state attorneys general can defend subsidy payments to the insurance industry for certain health care consumers. The GOP House sued in 2014 to stop these payments because Congress had not approved a specific appropriation, and DDT threatens to block the funding because Trumpcare failed. The insurance industry warned that instability could cause a 20-percent increase in premiums for 2018.

The House did buck DDT’s wishes when it passed—by 419-3!—increased sanctions on Russia and decreased presidential authority to change these sanctions. The Senate had already passed the bill by 98-2. The bill also includes sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Ukraine. Furious about the bill, DDT waited a week to sign the bill into law with no ceremony but declared has “clearly unconstitutional provisions.” This from the man who has violated the constitution in so many ways. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the bill will not “be helpful to our efforts.” Russian president Vladimir Putin is so angry that he reduced the U.S. diplomatic staff by 755 people, matching the number of diplomatic Russians in the U.S., and seized two properties used by U.S. diplomats.

Another irritant for DDT may be the Senate bill to protect special investigator, Robert Mueller. Any firing of a special counsel would demand judicial review if the bill passes by a veto-proof margin.

On the other side of Congress, senators have decided to go home tomorrow, or Friday at the latest, after Trumpcare went down in flames. (For a bit of satire regarding the upshot of the Senate Trumpcare vote, check out Andy Borowitz’s column about DDT supporters’ fury for still having healthcare.) In the midst of Trumpcare trauma, they planned to stay into their typical August recess until August 11th. The House is gone, however, and DDT plans to head out tomorrow if the flight restrictions around Bedminster (NJ) from August 3-20 are correct.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has already handed over another blank check from the Judiciary Committee to DDT by not requiring DDT associates—eldest son, Don Jr; son-in-law Jared Kushner; and former campaign manager Paul Manafort—to testify. They just “talked” and gave the committee some documents. One topic from the disappeared subpoenas was the once-secret meeting with a growing number of Russians when Jr, Kushner, and Manafort hoped to get dirt on Clinton. Grassley is also trying to prove that the former intelligence officer who prepared the dossier on Russian meddling really works for Russia, once again in a struggle to protect DDT.

The failure of Trumpcare in the Senate—thanks to “no” votes against it from GOP Sens. Susan Collins (ME), John McCain (AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (AK)—was followed by a failure for AG Jeff Sessions. The Appropriations Committee blocked the DOJ spending anything to undermine state medical marijuana laws. When Sessions isn’t trying to collect and keep money from innocent people picked up by the police, he has been salivating about destroying state laws regarding cannabis. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has proposed a bill to legalize cannabis because of its ability to solve the opioid abuse and relieve one racist approach toward imprisonment. GOP control of Congress will block Booker’s bill at this time, but approval of cannabis use is growing across the nation. Its use should be legal, according to 61 percent of people in the U.S., and 88 percent favor medical marijuana use. Another 71 percent oppose efforts to stop sales and use in states where it is legal, and 65 percent think that marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. In short, the vast majority of people disagree with Sessions.

The GOP senators have hit rock bottom after the failure of Trumpcare: they are offering to work with Democrats. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Senate Health Committee chair, will hold bipartisan hearings when Congress comes back in September to develop a short-term proposal to strengthen individual markets for the Affordable Care Act by mid-September. Female, Democrat Patty Murray (WA) will have a place at the negotiating table for the first time with Alexander’s decision. A bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, consisting of 43 senators from both parties, praised Alexander for his initiative. Insurers are required to sign contracts by the end of September to sell plans on the exchanges.

Christopher Wray—DDT’s pick for FBI director—has been confirmed, but five senators voted against him. Two of them are from Oregon, making me very proud. After the illegal closing of the George Washington Bridge, Wray defended New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Wray hid Christie’s cellphone, and Christie escaped a guilty verdict. Wray’s law firm represents Russia-owned energy companies, and Wray deleted his representation of an energy company executive in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities from his biography. His career has been spent in defending criminals, not pursuing them, i.e., a major Swiss bank accused of laundering money for terrorists. In the history of confirming FBI directors, only one other senator has ever voted against a director. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against James Comey because of surveillance issues.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) should be praised for introducing the Dream Act of 2017 granting legal status and a path to citizenship for DREAMers. Eight out of ten voters, including more than 7 in 10 Republicans, believe DREAMers should be allowed to remain in the US legally. Ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next 10 years, and remove an estimated 685,000 workers from the nation’s economy.

The question now is what will happen on October 1 if the House doesn’t get around to passing the budget and increasing the debt ceiling. The Senate and House have 12 joint working days before Sept. 29. A shutdown means a stock market crash, surging interest rates, disruption to the world’s financial system, and a recession. Twelve days.

 

January 11, 2017

Nominee Hearings: Make America Corrupt Again

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 9:50 PM
Tags: , ,

Writing about the timing for Senate confirmation hearings—at least accurately!—has become almost impossible. A few days, I was bemoaning how Cabinet members are being rushed through without deliberation, but every hour seems to change the GOP game plan. Originally, six Cabinet-level confirmations were scheduled on the same day that the chamber works on the budget (that one that grows the deficit by $10 trillion in the next decade) and Donald Trump (DT) gives his first press conference in six months to divert attention from his nominees. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “There is a whole lot of: ‘Don’t watch what we’re doing here.” Watchers now, however, can see how the GOP is failing at its job.

The inability of Betsy DeVos (Department of Education) put off her hearing until next Tuesday in the hopes that she can finished her required ethics paperwork. Her investment in a for-profit charter school would be a conflict of interest in any other administration.  As more cabinet nominees are shown to have possible conflicts of interest, they have also been postponed without the necessary review of background checks and ethics review.

Andrew Puzder (Department of Labor) may not get a hearing until February. The postponement comes at the same time as a new survey finding that two-thirds of the women who work at his fast-food restaurants (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) reported sexual harassment in the workplace. That was followed by a spokesperson for Puzder who confirmed that his ex-wife appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about his domestic violence against her in the 1980s.

Wilbur Ross (Department of Commerce), also  scheduled for today, has his hearing next Thursday, again because the committee has not received his ethics agreement. The hearings for CIA director nominee, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KA) for CIA Director was postponed until tomorrow. That makes hearings for four different cabinet members on one day.

Conservatives are blaming Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of the ethics office, for the delay, but nominees have not submitted their information to him.

The schedule as of recently:

  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions – Jan. 10-11
  • Homeland Security: John Kelly – Jan. 10-11
  • State: Rex Tillerson – Jan 11 (may go into Jan 12)
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao – Jan. 11
  • CIA: Mike Pompeo – Jan. 12
  • Labor: Andrew Puzder – February
  • Defense: James Mattis – Jan. 12
  • HUD: Ben Carson – Jan. 12

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of trying to slow down the process in demanding the necessary paperwork, but he had been a stickler for this requirement when President Obama was elected. Now he calls them “little procedural complaints.” Necessary submissions require tax returns, FBI background checks, and Office of Government Ethics information.

Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (Department of Justice) had completed the FBI background check, but his original application skipped over years of experience. He withheld decades of records about his career—information about 1981-1993 as U.S. Attorney to the Southern District of Alabama, 1995-1997 as the state’s attorney general, and 1997-2002 as a first term U.S. senator. Also missing are the hearings after his nomination for federal judge in 1986 when he was determined to be too racist for the position and dozens of recent interviews when he made controversial statements. It all came out in the hearing anyway.

The Alabama Republican criticized Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Goodwin Liu for incomplete questionnaires, accusing the latter of his incompetence because of his “extraordinary disregard for the Committee’s constitutional role” or attempting “to hide his most controversial work from the Committee.” Sessions said that Liu might be committing a felony by omitting information from his questionnaire. After almost a year of the Senate ignoring the nominee, President Obama withdrew the nomination. Liu is now seated on California’s Supreme Court.

Sessions is perhaps the most controversial nominee, and McConnell had limited the number of witnesses called by Democrats to four in the two-day hearing, only half the length of four days for John Ashcroft, the last nominees for AG plucked from the Senate. Ashcroft’s hearings included 19 outside witnesses plus four senators. Committee Chair Chuck Grassley refused to push back the time of Sessions’ hearing because of his omissions on his applications. Two witnesses against Sessions were Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—the first time a sitting senator has testified against a sitting senate nominee—and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Sessions did not appear for today’s hearing–but that is another story for later.

Although Sessions’ racist record goes back many decades, his current record shows racist, homophobic,  and misogynist  attitudes. For example, he gave Trump a pass for his sexist comments and admissions to sexual assault because “everybody knows that Trump likes women” and “uses this kind of talk.” He praised the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act; he voted for a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage; he opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the hate crimes prevention act; and he voted to abolish a program that helps businesses owned by women and minorities compete for federally funded transportation projects. In 2015, he praised a 1924 immigration law to end “indiscriminate acceptance of all races.”

In addition to being racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and anti-woman, Sessions has connections to Southern Co., one of the nation’s biggest electric companies and his biggest corporate donor. Favors for the company could impact his legal work on the Clean Power Plan which regulates carbon emissions from electric utilities. A power plant that the company is building is also being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ExxonMobil also gave to campaigns of Sessions who then vociferously objected to any investigations into the company concealing its knowledge of climate change from its shareholders and the public. This is the man who would be guiding the country in protecting the laws and civil rights.

Sessions has said that he will not recuse himself from voting on his own nomination as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry did.

Even the Republicans admit that they have different standards for DT’s nominees. Asked if past standards of disclosing foreign payments apply to DT’s Cabinet nominees, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said it should not. HuffPo repeated, “So it’s different now because it’s Trump?” Inhofe said twice that’s “just right” about different standards for DT. The question came from a GOP letter, also signed by Inhofe, demanding  “unprecedented disclosures” from former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) when he was President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. At that time, Senate Republicans had a concern about “the potential for foreign conflicts of interest.” The same Republicans no longer have that concern.

The hearing for Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) went quite well if you can stomach sexist comments such as “I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country’s infrastructure” (Mitch McConnell and “I keep thinking … how excited your daddy is right now … and that he is responsible for you and your performing” (Jim Inhofe).  Even the Democrats joined the nonsense.

John Kelly (Department of Homeland Security) said gave all the right answers to keep his hearing audience happy, but the questions were softballs.

Donald Trump’s press conference was also today. But that, too, is another story as is information from the hearing for Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State).

The lights have already gone out twice in a week at the Washington Monument. It could be an indication of the coming dark ages.

January 7, 2017

115th Congress: First Four Days toward Erasing Democracy

Hard to believe that the new GOP Congress has been passing bills for only four days! At least they leave town at the end of next week.

GOP members of Congress are growing insecure about their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) despite a poll that indicates 75 percent of the people in the United States oppose getting rid of the ACA without a viable replacement. In an effort to prove that constituents want a repeal, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is conducting a phone poll at 1-202-225-0600. The instructions explain that the caller should press 2 for a recording; if you support continuing the ACA, press 1. I tried it tonight—Saturday night—and received a busy signal for almost an hour with about 30 attempts. I’ll try tomorrow!

Ryan has already called security to remove people who tried to deliver 87,000 petitions to continue Planned Parenthood. When Planned Parenthood volunteers lined up at Ryan’s office to deliver these signatures, he sent out security to protect him. You can try to call him at 1-202-225-0600.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood, asked her constituents if they wanted to repeal Obamacare. Sixteen percent said yes; the remaining 84 percent said no. She claimed ACA was a failure because it didn’t insure the poor—after her state blocked Medicaid.

GOP legislators have passed a “rule” that their staffers can question subjects of GOP inquiries under oath without any congressional member being present. These staffers can “compel any American to appear, sit in a room, and answer staff’s invasive questions on the record,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pointed out, “This rules change represents a shocking continuation and expansion of House Republicans’ abusing of congressional processes to intimidate private citizens just as they did with the Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health.” It feels like a return of the Sen. Joe McCarthy days of the 1950s only on steroids.

GOP House members claim they want transparency—think about the 11 committee hearings investigating Hillary Clinton’s non-existent Benghazi involvement—but they’d prefer that the sunlight doesn’t strike their own problems. Concealing their ethics violations didn’t work, but they thought they succeeded in a Russian-style ban on lawmakers’ use of video and camera in the House. TV producer and self-described “newbie activist,” Blaine (no last name), has set up an online crowdfunding page to pay all the fines that Republican House members plan to charge Democrats if they film the GOP behavior. His goal is $25,000; any money not used for fines goes to the nonprofits Public Citizen and the Dow Jones News Fund. Although the building housing Congress technically belongs to the people of the U.S., the C-SPAN cameras supposed to be operating during all legislation are owned by the House and Senate, giving the GOP total control of information coming from Congress.

The House plans to help DT deregulate everything so that he can make more money. The Koch-provided REINS Act (HR 26 – Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017) dictates that a “major rule shall not take effect unless the Congress enacts a joint resolution of approval” and won’t become law if Congress does not pass that resolution by “70 session days or legislative days, as applicable.” In other words, agencies can set any rule that they want, but Congress has to pass the rules for them to be enacted. Specific targets of the bill are net neutrality, the Clean Power Plan, and voting rights. The mission is to keep people from an awareness of what’s happening, pollute the planet, and then prevent people from voting. The bill has passed the House by 237 to 187 and now goes to the Senate.

Another bill, this one passing the House by 238-184, is “the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017” which allows Congress to repeal every rule passed in the last 60 legislative days of a final year of a president’s term. If it passes the Senate and is signed by DT, it deletes all rules passed since May 26, 2016.

One of DT’s popular promises was to “build the wall.” Mexico has always said that it won’t pay for it, but Republicans have a new plan. They will build the wall—costing $12 billion to $38 billion—and then charge Mexico for it. Unlike some of the other bills in Senate, however, Democrats can filibuster the funding for the wall. Ten red-state Democrats are up for reelection in 2018, and the GOP Senate needs only eight Democratic defectors to break a filibuster. Of these eight, four will probably not play nicely with the GOP to pay for a wall that hurts employers in their states.

The House isn’t the only chamber that’s busily tearing down the country. Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX, and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced legislation to remove security at U.S. diplomatic sites. Gone is the horror about deaths at Benghazi and the call for the U.S. to protect its ambassadors. The bill restricts funding for “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance”—except for the embassy in Tel Aviv until its hoped-for GOP relocation to Jerusalem. In essence, half the funding for embassy security will be removed until the new secretary of state reports to Congress that the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has “officially opened.”

The international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the city hosts no foreign embassies. Relocating the U.S. embassy to a city that doesn’t belong to Israel would totally destroy a two-state peace solution between Palestine and Israel as well as causing massive unrest among other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan. And embassy security is sadly underfunded as shown by the problems at Benghazi.

In order to persuade the slave-owning states to join the United States in the 18th century, the U.S. Constitution gave each state two senators no matter their size. Those states are still controlling the majority of people in the United States. In the recent election, DT lost the popular vote by almost three million, but the electoral vote—giving each state two electoral college votes no matter what its size—came in on the side of DT. For example, California is 66 times larger in population than Wyoming but each state got two electoral votes for the number of senators.

This disparity is made obvious by the overwhelming majority of votes for the minority of Democrats in the Senate. Those 48 members of the chamber collectively earned 78.4 million votes; the 52 Republicans got 54.8 million votes. Therefore Democrats, in the Senate minority, received 23.5 million more votes than the majority determined to give the country to the top 0.1 percent and destroy the country for the rest of us. If the Senate operated on the popular vote, it would have 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans. But of course if the country operated on a popular vote, Hillary Clinton would be president instead of a crazy TV personality. At least DT goes bonkers every time that he hears about what a loser he is. So sad!

When the GOP took control of Congress two years ago, a Republican friend told me that a GOP Congress would remove gridlock. At that time Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised that a Republican Congress would get things done. The last two years have been such a disaster for Congress that its approval rating is at 17 percent—16 percent approval among Republicans. Now the GOP is in control of the country. Republican voters: be careful what you wish for!

January 4, 2017

No Select Committee to Investigate Russian Hacking

Senate buddies John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have caved in to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in their demand to investigate Russian hacking into the presidential election that may have caused Hillary Clinton to lose to Donald Trump (DT). McConnell, who blocked information about the hacking last September, “declined” to allow a select committee, claiming that existing Senate committees are enough. In the past, McCain has said about the hacking, “When you attack a country, it’s an act of war. “If you try to destroy the fundamentals of democracy, then you have destroyed a nation.” After his brief return to being a “maverick,” McCain has gone back to wimp.

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2016, file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stands on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Ecuador says it’s ready to set a date for Swedish prosecutors to question Assange, who has been holed up in the South American country’s embassy in London for four years. Assange is wanted for questioning by Swedish police over rape allegations stemming from his visit to the country in 2010. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

DT and his team claim that Russia had nothing to do with interfering in the presidential election. Their source? Sexual assault fugitive Julian Assange who has been hiding for years in the Ecuador Embassy in London.  Assange is noted for his Wikileaks smears about Clinton’s inner circle as bunch of crazed, creepy Satanists.

At this time, Assange’s follower, DT, can’t even keep track of when his meetings are scheduled: he has accused officials of postponing until Friday his “intelligence” briefing on the “so-called ‘Russian hacking’” that he doesn’t believe. The briefing was always scheduled for Friday, and DT’s “Presidential Daily Briefing” was scheduled yesterday. He rarely attends these briefings so he may not bother to keep track of the times. The one yesterday did not concentrate on Russian hacking because that briefing is scheduled for Friday.

Much has been said about Russians hacking only Democrats; DT accused them of not having “hacking defense” like the Republicans. In another indication of Russians influencing the election, however, U.S. intelligence officials say “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” On New Year’s Eve, DT told that press that “I know things that other people don’t know” about the hacking and promised to tell all yesterday or today. His team has withdrawn that disclosure.

Basically, a president-elect is taking sides with a criminal hacker with Russian connections over the United States intelligence agencies. Assange has had a program on Russia’s propaganda station,  and DT has started a feud with his own intelligence community to side with Assange who leaked names of Afghan civilians acting as U.S. informants. That president-elect was elected by a hawkish political party that has been skeptical about Communist Russia’s relationship with their nation. Former vice-president elect Sarah Palin called Assange “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” and now apologized to him.

DT is so supportive of Russia that he plans to reduce the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the CIA. His real motive may be that he’s afraid that intelligence will find out things about him that he doesn’t want them to know.

DT’s faith in Assange is at opposite ends from major Republicans in Congress. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told conservative Hugh Hewitt that “the guy [Assange] is a sycophant for Russia. He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security.” Graham, who backed down on investigating Russian hacking, said:

“We have two choices — some guy living in an embassy on the run from the law … who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us. I’m going with them.”

Even VP-elect Mike Pence has stated that there is sufficient evidence that Russia played a part in the election.

While DT spreads his opinion far and wide on Twitter that his 17 intelligence agencies are wrong, the current CIA director, John Brennan, talked to Judy Woodruff on PBS about the upcoming release of the Russian intelligence report this coming Monday. He recommended a “wait and see” approach:

“There is no intelligence community worldwide that has the capabilities, the expertise, the analytic capability of the U.S. intelligence community. And so I would suggest to individuals who have not yet seen the report, who have not been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments.”

DT has a lot at stake regarding information about Russian hacking. He wants only three things: money, vengeance, and popularity. Finding out that he won the presidency because a foreign government illegally influenced his election could damage the last piece.

Admitting to Russian hacking could also damage his relationship with Vladimir Putin, who DT calls his “best friend” and who may hold the purse strings of much of DT’s investments.  DT’s friendship with Vladimir Putin can also put money into his pocket. President Obama’s sanctions stopped a $500 million oil deal between the Russian government and Exxon. Lifting the sanctions could put lots of money into DT’s pocket and be a major reason for Putin to make sure that Trump got elected. As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson could help make money for both him and DT.

A hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for tomorrow with McCain as chair, but McConnell may be able to destroy that one too. Today, George Little, a former spokesman for the CIA, tweeted about DT, “Let’s stare this reality square in the face: PEOTUS is pro-Putin and believes Julian Assange over the @CIA. On Jan. 20 we will be less safe.”

DT’s strategy is always creating a diversion when the media might address something detrimental to him. Look for his tweets in the next couple days to see where he leads the media.

 

January 3, 2017

Day One of the 115th Congress, Its Stumbles

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 10:22 PM
Tags: , , ,

The 115th Congress is one day old, and a strange thing happened: some Republicans seemed to exhibit shame—or perhaps just fear of constituents. Their embarrassment began yesterday when GOP members of the House voted in a closed session to put the House in charge of ethics charges for House members. The process seems to be a redux of the 2004 GOP decision to weaken ethics rules in the GOP-controlled House, led by then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) who was later convicted of violating election law. Vice-president Mike Pence, a representative at that time, strongly supported the move.

After the vote to weaken the ethics procedures, a large number of House members, almost all Republicans, were caught in illegal scandals—one of these the Abramoff affair—that put some of them in prison. When Democrats ran against this “culture of corruption” in 2006, they won both congressional chambers and set up an independent committee to take care of House ethics matters.

History repeated itself yesterday when GOP House members voted 119-74 to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the House Ethics Committee despite opposition for leadership House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Yet the majority had decided to keep investigations from public view and allow the House committee to stop investigating at any time, based on a House vote. Anonymous tips would not be investigated, and crimes could not be sent to law enforcement, a practice not only unethical but also unconstitutional. The full House would have to agree to move forward on an investigation, but the committee had no ability to search for evidence to get the approval.

The decision was not a done deal: the entire House had to vote on this change as part of the rules package today. Judicial Watch, the conservative group which pushed to get the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails, described the change as “shady and corrupt, a “drive by effort.” Phones lit up and tweets flew. Donald Trump (DT) sensed the disturbance and tweeted that the House should do other things first that favored him personally. After all, he thinks he cannot be investigated:

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”

DT’s staff disagreed with him. His counselor, Kellyanne Conway praised the weakening of ethics, saying that it will cut down on “overzealousness.” She lost. Only a few of the 119 supporters were willing to go public or admit that they were in favor of it. GOP constituents constantly supported the change until an emergency GOP conference meeting reversed yesterday’s vote by unanimous consent. DT took credit for this action, but one representative said that the strong public opposition had killed it before DT wrote anything.

One conclusion from Day One of the 115th Congress suggests that shame works. Without public outcry, the Republicans would have moved ahead to hide all their illegal activities. This reversal could even set a precedent when the GOP tries to eliminate health care, Social Security, Wall Street regulations, taxes for the wealthy, etc. Protest!

Of course, it’s not over. The GOP can revert to their idea when they think no one is watching or hide it inside a major bill. House Ethics Chair Susan Brooks (R-IN) said that the ethics panel will review the proposal make recommendations in late summer or early fall—probably hoping that people will be on vacation then.

A major question is whether the GOP House leadership has any more control over their members. Despite top-level arguments against weakening the ethics rules, the caucus decided to move forward on it—briefly. The Republicans in Congress have been badly split since the Tea Party revolution of 2010, creating a dilemma on negotiation. Who does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or DT work with if Ryan and McCarthy don’t agree with the underlings.

While the House was dithering about ethics, the Senate, with less attention, bragged about repealing “Obamacare.” Today they put together an introduction to the “reconciliation process” to out-maneuver a Democratic filibuster against any health care repeal bills. The process can be used only in bills affecting spending and revenue and must be approved by the Senate Parliamentarian before the vote can move forward.

Last year, the GOP passed the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act (RAHFRA, which probably can’t be pronounced) using the reconciliation process. Budget parts of the Affordable Care Act such as insurance subsidies, Medicaid expansion, tax increases, and the mandate to buy coverage were approved to be covered by reconciliation. Left standing was covering young people through age 26 on their parents’ policies and pre-existing conditions.

The process cannot be used for legislation increasing the deficit in ten years or more. That’s the reason that George W. Bush’s tax cuts, passed by reconciliation, had to expire in 2011.

Afraid of protests from people losing their health care or charged more for insurance, Congress wants to move quickly and hope that no one will notice the problems. Two thirds of the people in the U.S. think that the ACA either didn’t affect the number of people with health insurance or caused more people to be uninsured. With no replacement, ACA repeal will leave 22 million people without coverage and millions others suffering from the havoc in the individual insurance market.

Conway, DT’s counselor, promises that no one with health insurance will lose their coverage.  GOP legislators will most likely not live up to her promise. The half-hearted suggestions for replacement go from almost nothing to keeping the ACA marketplaces, in general disadvantaging older, sick people and offering less financial help to people who use more insurance. Costs can skyrocket for people who need more health care.

With no replacement, the loss of the ACA can drastically drop coverage even if the planned repeal is years from now. Conway said that DT doesn’t have a plan ready because Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) has not been confirmed as Secretary for the Health and Human Services Department. Price wants a fixed tax credit starting at $1,200 a year for buying insurance on the private market and state high-risk pools—the ones that miserably failed in Florida and 33 other states.

Another way that the GOP is hiding its increase in deficit by repealing the ACA came from the rules package requiring the director of the budget office to prepare an estimate of whether any bill would cause a boost in spending in excess of $5 billion over the next four decades. Any bill, that is, except a bill, joint resolution or amendment that would repeal Obamacare. A major advantage of ACA was its reduction of the deficit so repealing the law would increase the deficit. To avoid the issue, the reconciliation bill keeps cuts to Medicare doctor payments, thereby scoring the bill as reducing the deficit.

Today’s budget proposal from the Republicans raises the national deficit from about $600 billion next year to a $10 trillion increase within the next decade. The bill has to pass both chambers of Congress; the question is how long Republicans can hide the increase in the deficit under the pretense that the bill concerns the repeal of Obamacare. This bill covers no specific spending. Other bills will have to do that–expenditures such as repealing the ACA, building the wall, cutting taxes for the wealthy, etc., all acts that vastly increase the deficit.  Lawrence O’Donnell explains the situation here, beginning about Minute 32.

Like a dog chasing a bus, the GOP has been chasing the repeal of health care for six years. What happens when they catch it?

The GOP House members did approve a rules package that fines members who take pictures or video from the House floor. Evidently transparency is not high on their list, especially after their embarrassment from the 26-hour sit-in protesting Ryan’s refusal to allow any votes on gun safety bills.

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