Nel's New Day

August 29, 2018

White House Counsel Latest, But Not Only, to ‘Resign’

As Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) continues to threaten his AG Jeff Sessions with firing, journalists have watched for a shakeup in the Department of Justice or even the firing of special investigator Robert Mueller. Yet the “resignation” of Don McGahn, the White House counsel, has resulted in dismay.

It’s true that McGahn has been making noises about leaving the White House and that DDT was caught off-guard when he learned about McGahn’s 30 hours of testimony with Mueller President Trump’s advisers. But McGahn himself was surprised when DDT tweeted this morning that he was leaving; McGahn had hoped that he would stay to shepherd Supreme Court justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, through the confirmation process.

And it’s not as if DDT has lots of legal help if Democrats take over the House and subpoena all the people who the GOP had been sheltering. Or even worse for DDT, if Democrats started impeachment proceedings. With Democratic control, House committees could hold hearings about policies such as DDT’s travel ban, his “zero tolerance” answer to immigration separating children and families, and various ethical misconduct through DDT, his administration, and his family’s private businesses.

Having lost ten lawyers, the White House has about 25. Three of McGahn’s deputies already left, and a fourth goes Friday, leaving only one deputy counsel, the ethics czar who handles national security.

WaPo interviewed 26 White House officials, presidential advisers, and lawyers and strategists close to the administration to investigate this situation. McGahn understood the danger of impeachment: he and other aides tried to persuade DDT to not behave in any way that could lead to being impeached. DDT obviously has not tried this tack, and he also has no action plan if impeachment comes into play. Speaking on the record, DDT’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that he had talked to DDT about impeachment but “they can’t [criminally] charge him.” Giuliani’s advice has not been very useful to DDT.

A source of anxiety among DDT’s allies is that he and White House officials aren’t worried about Democratic control. DDT thinks that he can get enough Republicans elected to Congress to save him, and he sometimes becomes angry with advisers who raise “the i-word,” his term for impeachment. An ally said:

“Winter is coming. Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it’s like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody’s prepared for war.”

Allies are also concerned that the White House, which has not attracted top-notch talent, may have more problems if Democrats take the House. Aides may leave the sinking ship, fearing legal limbo and hefty lawyer fees just because of their positions near DDT. At this time, the White House can hardly handle crisis communications in distributing strong talking points, and potential battles will cause more difficulties. Because DDT sees only himself as the focus, he cannot grasp the size of an infrastructure necessary to protect the presidency such as Clinton had with scores of lawyers, communications staffers, and other strategists during his impeachment. White House counsel at that time said that his office had as many as 60 lawyers during key times.

DDT found himself in enough trouble during his first 18 months, but McGahn kept him from worse times. He refused to fire Mueller a year ago after DDT gave him the order. When Sessions considered resigning early in his term because of DDT’s vicious statements, McGahn persuaded him to stay. And McGahn knows where the bodies are buried and may tell Mueller about their locations. DDT ordered McGahn to tell Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russian investigation and heard from then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that DDT’s national security adviser Michael Flynn was lying about the nature of his contact with Russian officials.

The relationship between DDT and McGahn has become so strained that they “kind of avoided each other,” according to a former administration official. DDT was upset because McGahn didn’t “kowtow to him,” and DDT’s tweet guaranteed that McGahn would have to go—and soon. He was also furious because McGahn would not deny the story of DDT’s wanting to fire Mueller and tried to persuade his disgraced former staff secretary, Rob Porter, to warn McGahn that he would fire him then. McGahn also opposed DDT’s pardoning Paul Manafort, which may have driven DDT over the edge.

DDT envies the skilled lawyers for aides such as Abbe Lowell, representing Kushner, and William A. Burck, representing McGahn, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon, and considers adding Lowell to his very small legal team. DDT is also considering replacing McGahn with Emmet Flood, his White House strategist with the Mueller probe.

DDT may be losing another lawyer. DOJ is investigating a team of lawyers which includes trial lawyer Bobby Burchfield, independent ethics adviser for the DDT’s family business interests, for accepting tens of millions of dollars in laundered funds. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and DDT’s longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz are also part of the legal team in trouble. Jho Low, a fugitive Malaysian businessman with assets in the U.S., allegedly paid the lawyers from $4.5 billion embezzled from a Malaysian fund.

On her show, Rachel Maddow mocked DDT’s reason for hiring Burchfield to avoid setting up a trust for his business after he was inaugurated:

“Don’t worry, we’re hiring an outside ethics adviser to make sure everything is squeaky clean for me to be the first president in modern history to retain his business interests while still serving as president. We have an outside adviser. Rest assured, there will be no funny money sliding through anywhere, nothing the least bit smelly in this unclean office fridge, everything will be fine.’”

According to Bloomberg News, DDT is considering hiring Burchfield as White House counsel or to replace Jeff Sessions as AG.

Another fired White House staff member, after a failure of DDT’s promise for “extreme vetting,” is policy aide and speechwriter Darren Beattie, who spoke at the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club Conference. Named for the early 20th century, journalist, satirist, and racist, the group caters to white nationalists such as Richard Spencer. Peter Brimelow, John Derbyshire, and Robert Weissberg, the latter two fired by the conservative magazine National Review for racist views, presented at the conference. Other speakers at the conference regularly contribute to the white nationalist website VDare. Beattie tried to stay at the White House with the claim that he presented uncontroversial academic information before he was fired. White House departures—it’s the new normal.

Larry Kudlow, DDT’s top economic adviser, hosted Peter Brimelow, the publisher of a website that serves as a platform for white nationalism, in his home. The birthday gathering for Kudlow was the day after Beattie spoke on a panel with Brimelow. Kudlow said he had no idea that Brimelow promoted white supremacists on Vdare.com and claimed to be a civil rights Republican. (The extent of ignorance in the White House is amazing!)

A true—and sad—resignation came from Seth Frotman, formerly the top U.S. official overseeing the $1.5 trillion student loan market at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As part of his goal to destroy the agency, acting director and DDT’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, downgraded the student loan office mission, putting it under consumer education instead of enforcement. Before that happened, the office had protected student borrowers and returned $750 million to students who were unfairly treated. Frotman said he resigned because of the White House’s open hostility toward protecting the borrowers. His letter to Mulvaney stated:

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting. Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America….

“Sadly, the damage you have done to the Bureau betrays these families and sacrifices the financial futures of millions of Americans in communities across the country.”

The Bureau will soon have a new director, Kathy Kraninger, who looked to Mulvaney as her mentor. The Banking Committee approved her nomination by a party line of 13-12 on its way to a full Senate vote. Kraninger, who admitted that she is unqualified for her new position, avoided answering questions about any accomplishments at her job at OMB and doesn’t know what she would do when confirmed. She was also instrumental in DDT’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy but refused to answer any questions about her involvement, including with the private prison company with facilities that participated in abuse, sexual violence, neglect, and mismanagement.

DDT’s swinging door spins.

June 28, 2017

Congress Churns Forward

Congress is getting ready for another vacation, gone for all next week for a week, before returning for a few days and disappearing for over a month. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has taken over for Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) as head of the House Oversight Committee and announced that he won’t bother with any investigation into the involvement of people such as Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner with Russia. Gowdy also ruled out looking into whether Trump White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked. This is the same man who spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours examining Hillary Clinton’s email server and four deaths in Benghazi.

Chaffetz won’t be back to Washington after the break; he submitted his resignation in April. He did leave a legacy by calling on Congress to declare a monthly $2,500 housing stipend for each congressional member, equivalent to two annual minimum-wage salaries. Chaffetz is the same person who told people that they could pay for their health insurance if they didn’t buy an iPhone. People who asked why Chaffetz had quit a year and a half before the end of his two-year term now have their answer. He starts on Fox network Saturday—the day that he begins “retirement.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R-AZ), each met with Andriy Parubiy, founder of the neo-fascist Social-National Party of Ukraine that used Nazi ideology and Third Reich imagery. The SNPU banned non-Ukrainians and established a violently racist paramilitary group called the Patriot of Ukraine. Ryan called on “closer political, economic, and security relations between our legislatures,” and McCain said that he and Parubiy had a “good meeting.”

While the media concentrated on the egregious health care plan in the Senate and the Russian investigation into Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his colleagues, the House passed a near-repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act. When the act was signed into law in 2010, it attempted to limit the riskiest types of securities to keep the United States out of another recession like the one a decade ago. Current Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin hates the Dodd-Frank Act because it keeps him from making more vast profits from disclosing on mortgages the way that he did before it went into effect.

Ironically the pro-Wall Street bill is called CHOICE Act. One part of it eliminates the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, requiring brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement. The legislation would also stop the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from overseeing plans for banks with more than $50 billion in holding assets if they need to declare bankruptcy. It would also greatly lower capital requirements, a method of making bank safer by keeping them from loading up on debt.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calls it the “Wrong Choice Act” because the anti-family, anti-consumer provisions block regulators from carrying out their jobs and allows big banks to ignore oversight. CHOICE allows banks to return to gambling in the market with federally guaranteed deposits and resume unlimited unfair banking practices to deceive customers. CHOICE permits unregulated payday and car-title loan sharks. If the bill passes, the president can fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and curb its oversight powers. The bill allows legislators to defund CFPB, the first step in doing away from it.

CFPB returned $11.8 billion to more than 29 million consumers defrauded by big banks, shady for-profit colleges, and debt collectors. Despite the banks’ record profits last year, they want to eliminate the rules that reduce foreclosures and protect borrowers.

The Dodd-Frank Act creates rules, processes, and organizations in the connected financial world of banks, hedge funds, mortgage originators, insurance companies, debt collectors, and payday lenders. Stripping away the pieces of Dodd-Frank is like mining by removing a mountain. With any luck, the CHOICE Act may not move through the Senate because eight Democrats would have to support it.

Before the Senate tackles CHOICE, it has to deal with the highly unpopular health care bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has found $188 billion, and he’s madly talking with reluctant GOP senators to bribe them with backroom “side deals.” Conservatives no longer want to use money to reduce the deficit. If he gets any kind of consensus, then he has to rush the revised bill to the Congressional Budget Office for another scoring in order to vote in the last two weeks of July. The bill has to be passed in coordination with the House by September 30 in order to need only 50 votes, and the Senate is in recess for all of August.

Compromise will be difficult: the far right wants no coverage mandates to lower premiums, and the right (called moderates) want more generous tax credits for the working class and less punitive Medicaid cuts. At least nine senators have said that they couldn’t vote for the present bill, and they’re split between those from states that expanded Medicaid and those who fought it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wants permission for bare-bones plans that don’t offer much health care—back to life before the Affordable Care Act. McConnell continues to claim that Democrats won’t talk about the health care bill while Democrats are begging to be given a seat at the discussion table.

As could be expected, Democrats were upset about being left out of the process. In an odd twist, however, so were several Republicans. Those in the closed-door “listening sessions” reported that the leadership wouldn’t tell them what was and wasn’t on the table. They were just asked about what they could and couldn’t support. Some went so far as to say that the meetings were a box-checking exercise.  “I always believe legislation is best crafted through the normal order,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. “I think it’s much better to have committee consideration of bills, public hearings and to have a full debate.” She was joined by a number of “moderate” GOP senators in calling on involvement of Democrats in the governing process.

The Senate has not had this type of closed-door partisan process to major legislation since before World War I, over a century ago. Don Ritchie, the historian emeritus of the Senate, said that Democratic leaders tried the same MO during the Great Depression, but senator revolted. A small revolt may be starting now as most GOP senators are non-committal about the bill. A  result of Senate support, people hate their version of Trumpcare even more than they hated the House bill. A USA Today poll reported 12 percent approval, and that newspaper is owned by Fox’s Rupert Murdoch. The House bill had gone as high as 20 percent approval.

The last time that members of Congress headed home for a recess, most of the Republicans refused to have town halls with their constituents. They will be increasingly reluctant this summer because the health care bills are causing far more anger than earlier—and the public was furious then. Some GOP legislators are using the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as an excuse to avoid their voters. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) has an idea. During the last recess, he suggested that Democrats “adopt a district” as he did when he fielded questions in a town hall from constituents in a neighboring district after Rep. John Faso (R-NY) avoided any meetings. Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-AZ) “adopted” a neighboring district belonging to Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) when she wouldn’t host an event in her district. Maybe the idea will catch on this summer. Only two GOP senators—Jerry Moran (KS) and Bill Cassidy (LA) have scheduled town halls for the upcoming break.

A miracle did happen in the U.S. House during the past month! Republicans stood up for the environment! DDT’s budget eliminates more than 50 EPA programs, halves the scientific research, and decimates environmental enforcement and grants—in all, slashing $2.6 billion, 31 percent of the EPA’s budget. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) wasn’t buying the agency’s secretary, Scott Pruitt, when he defended the cuts by saying they didn’t need the funding. Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) defended the Great Lakes, calling them “a national treasure” and asking if Pruitt thought that it’s “fair to expect states and local communities to shoulder the burden of caring for them.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) opposed the 30 percent cuts in the Superfund program, affecting over 100 hazardous waste sites in his state. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) objected to zeroing out several tribal environmental grants and programs. It’s a start!

January 5, 2012

Cordray Appointment Necessary, Resented by Conservatives

From the looks of headlines today, the storm surrounding the appointment of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is going to overcome some of the publicity of the New Hampshire primary in five days.

Republicans would do well to be afraid of him. First, he’s pretty intelligent. With a masters of economics from Oxford University and editor-in-chief of the University of Chicago Law Review, he clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy—a Reagan appointee—and represented the U.S. government before the Supreme Court three times, once for George H.W. Bush. Cordray is also an undefeated, five-time champion on Jeopardy!, winning $45,303.

Conservatives refuse to accept the existence of the CFPB because they don’t want any fiscal oversight, but they also oppose Cordray because he goes after both Wall Street financial institutions and individual executives. When he explained his lawsuit on behalf of Ohio pensions against the Bank of America Merrill Lynch merger because BofAS concealed billions of dollars of Merrill Lynch losses from their clients, he said:

“My understanding of a bonus is that it’s a special reward for superior performance. There wasn’t any superior performance for special reward; nonetheless, they [BofA and Merrill execs] wanted the bonuses. They ultimately, as best we know, got approval to pay out somewhere between $3 and $4 billion in bonuses, which was a very material element to the value of the merger. That was not disclosed to investors.

“…we’ve also pursued some of the top executives–not just the corporations themselves. We do think that they bear their share of the blame–we think that they need to be held accountable as well. We think that that’s a principle that sends a message to other corporate executives on Wall Street that is a further disincentive for this kind of thing in the future.”

Makes sense to me. Also what makes sense is the importance of the power that CFPB will have over groups now that the agency has a director:

Non-bank Mortgage Lenders and Services: Existing laws and rules governed these groups, but there was no oversight to make sure that they followed the law. Now monitors may discourage mortgagers from using “robo-signers” to foreclose on borrowers without any required paperwork.

Payday Lenders: Federal laws such as the Truth in Lending Act already govern these companies that make high-interest short-term loans, but again there is no federal oversight to guarantee compliance. Examiners can now go to firms suspected of illegal or abusive practices.

Private Student Lenders: Examiners already have the authority to check out these companies; now they can require lenders to follow existing rules and write new ones to guarantee fair lending.

Prepaid Debit Card Companies, Credit Bureaus, Money-Transfer Companies, Check Cashers, Debt Relief Services: Again subject to federal laws, these companies have little oversight.

Big Banks: Already overseen by the agency, nothing much will change. Banks will stay “too big to fail.”

In summary, the CFPB isn’t currently trying to pass new regulations; it’s just trying to enforce existing ones. Republicans don’t want these laws enforced! They should take note that Congress’s approval rating is 9 percent compared to 46 percent for President Obama. At this time there are 202 unconfirmed executive and judicial nominations because of the Senate Republicans’ custom of filibustering nominees and forcing cloture calls to create long delays.

Equally frustrating, however, is the state of “journalism,” including the reporting of President Obama’s appointments. Today’s article about the appointment of Cordray highlighted AP’s shortcomings. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, journalism is “writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.” That’s the way that I taught it. Any analytical person knows that Fox News is not journalism. But the venerable AP should be.

The lead sentence of this article, claiming to be news and not analysis, begins with the emotional words, “Defying Republican lawmakers, President Barack Obama on Wednesday barreled by the Senate….” The article continues with such phrases as “setting a fierce tone” and “sought to make a splash.” Another sentence begins, “In political terms, Obama’s move was unapologetically brazen, the equivalent of a haymaker.”

I expect such verbiage from my small-town newspaper because it pays very low salaries and has a publisher with no understanding of journalism. But the first sentence of the AP website states, “For more than a century and a half, men and women of The Associated Press have had the privilege of bringing truth to the world.”  Further down the introduction states, “That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions.” Don’t believe them. Nel’s New Day does not claim to be unbiased; the AP does.

Meanwhile, the Republicans will be sure to continue the battle, possibly taking the President to court over something that they consider unconstitutional. Imagine where the approval ratings will head when they try to sue a president for legally helping the people of the United States to save money and avoid fraudulent companies!

January 4, 2012

Iowa Caucus Finished, Obama Makes Recess Appointments

What an interesting caucus in Iowa! Michelle Bachmann is gone, Rick Perry will “reassess” his candidacy on January 21 (or not, depending on the moment), and Rick Santorum (the next “anyone-but-Romney” candidate) lost to Mitt Romney by 8 votes. Romney received six fewer votes than in 2008 when Mike Huckabee got 40 percent of the vote.

Friends of Romney may start focusing their venomous television advertising on Santorum. Jon Huntsman didn’t even try for Iowa votes, and Newt Gingrich keeps plugging along to sell his books. Meanwhile Ron Paul, in third place, might consider running as a third candidate.

The best news of the day, however, is that the Democrats are retaining a spine. Fed up with the Republicans’ constant stalling, aka filibuster, President Obama will keep the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) functioning by recess-appointing Sharon Block, Richard Griffin, and Terence Flynn to the board. Block and Griffin are Democrats; Flynn is a Republican. Without these appointments the NLRB would lose its three-member quorum, necessary for issuing rules and regulations, because Craig Becker is another recess appointment.

Obama also made a recess appointment of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law to enforce a variety of financial consumer protection laws. Without a director, it cannot follow the law’s mandate. Republicans thought that if they blocked this appointment, they could stop the law from taking effect, a process known as nullification.

Cordray was the first state AG to sue a mortgage lender over fraudulent practices and led efforts to rein in payday lenders. The CFPB, according to the law that passed 18 months ago creating the board, is tasked with overseeing lenders and financial institutions to prevent the types of predatory practices such as foreclosure fraud, discriminatory mortgage lending, and practices from payday, student loan, and credit card lenders that cheated and defrauded the American people before and through the recession.

All these positions have been empty for over a year because of the Republicans’ stalling.

As usual, many Republicans are having a fit, claiming that this has never happened before and is unconstitutional. Recess-appointments require a ten-day recess; Congress recessed on December 23. Republican leaders claim that this constitutes no recess. On the other hand, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) has said that he approves Obama’s actions because the Washington system is “broken.”

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt made more than 160 appointments during a recess of less than one day. President Ronald Reagan averaged three times as many recess appointments as Obama each year, making 243 total appointments during his time in office. Meanwhile, filibusters, a real power grab by conservatives, have increased two-fold since Obama took office, and a large number of votes never occur because of the GOP’s threats to filibuster.

All these appointments are very good news for the nation’s 99 percent!

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