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 16, 2018

Court, Staff Problems for DDT

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) turned 72 this past week, trying to get out of lawsuits and scandals through a series of lies. Yet the information about his corrupt associates continues. More documents from DDT’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen have been uncovered, including 731 pages of messages that he sent on such apps as WhatsApp and Signal that allow the content of the texts to remain encrypted. While getting data from a second phone, the FBI took 315 megabytes of data from one of his Blackberry phones. In addition, investigators reconstructed 16 pages of Cohen’s shredded documents. Yesterday was the deadline for Cohen to review hundreds of thousands of documents seized in the April raid of his office and home, and his lawyers disappeared yesterday, making him more likely to cooperate with the Russian investigation. The reason for the loss may be a fee dispute; Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said that Cohen’s bills could be as much as $500,000 per week. DDT’s campaign fund paid about $228,000 by the end of April, but it may have stopped because experts considered this to be potentially illegal.

Cohen is expecting to be arrested, and DDT is separating himself from his former friend. An opening gambit is DDT’s comment that anyone will lie to stay out of prison, insinuating that Cohen will take that tack. Leaks about Cohen’s legal problems may come from him in a signal to DDT that he will need a pardon. The pardon, however, would take away from using Fifth Amendment if he is called on to testify against someone else—like DDT. Meanwhile, however, Cohen fails in his search for a buyer for his expensive Trump building apartment and lawyers.

Cohen also failed in court to get a gag order on Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti to prevent him from speaking publicly about the lawsuit. Although Cohen had proclaimed “irreparable injury” to get the order, the judge regarded his request to be frivolous, “a complete joke and baseless” because Cohen “can’t deal with the truth, the facts, and the law.”

After several pundits said that Paul Manafort, former DDT campaign manager, should take a toothbrush with him to court, a judge ordered him to jail for tampering with witnesses while out on bail and waiting for trial on charges of federal conspiracy and money laundering. DDT again tried to minimize any relationship with Manafort and refused to talk about pardoning him. Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, pled guilty to lying to Mueller’s investigators and agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

A judge did rule has that Robert Mueller’s office must reveal names of alleged foreign agents who worked with former DDT campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

DDT’s charitable foundation is in legal trouble for its “political coordination” with his presidential campaign, among other issues, but a major problem could be “a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance” from DDT via video in Kiev. Two weeks after DDT’s election, his foundation stated in a tax form that it may have been illegally benefited by the donation.

George Conway, husband of DDT’s counselor Kellyanne Conway, has come out with strong support of Robert Mueller’s legal authority in the Russia investigation in his essay “The Terrible Arguments against the Constitutionality of the Mueller Investigation.” A graduate of Harvard and Yale and a Republican, George Conway is an attorney who served as a clerk in the 2nd Circuit Court.

The DOJ has found several meetings between the NRA and elite Russians during the presidential campaign in its investigation about whether lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the organization. Influential Russians hosted NRA representatives in Moscow while the Kremlin hacked Democrat emails and put viral fake news on U.S. social media accounts to smear Hillary Clinton. Donating or using foreign money in U.S. election campaigns is a crime. The NRA, DDT’s biggest financial supporter, spent over $30 million, perhaps as much as $70 million, on his candidacy and has attempted to hide its expenditures and donors.

Russia also influenced the Brexit vote for the UK to leave the EU, and at least two of the British actors in this collusion also provided support for DDT’s campaign. Emails show that British businessman Arron Banks, the largest donor in UK history during the campaign for UK’s departure from the EU who denied Russian involvement, had several meetings with Russians during Brexit. Banks also admitted that he gave phone numbers for these Russians to people on DDT’s transition team. The defense of “witch hunt” is now becoming popular with Brexit supporter Banks.

DDT’s staff are still causing him trouble. DDT bragged about how “everybody wants to work in the White House,” but so few people want to work for him that officials are begging for employee candidates at a conservative job fair.

Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, plans to leave this summer. His leadership of DDT’s legislative agenda has not always been successful, and DDT has frequently criticized him while he goes out on his own to make his own unsuccessful deals. An example this past week is DDT’s claim that he wouldn’t sign the more moderate immigration bill to go before the House this coming week before declaring that he would sign either one of the bills that was passed. Two other communications staffers left the White House this week—Steven Cheung, director of strategic response, and Cliff Simms, now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s senior adviser. At least 18 of DDT’s 31 assistants—including six replacements—left their posts.

Another imminent high profile departure may be Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Asked about the possibility, DDT said that “at a certain point everyone sort of leaves, you have to leave.” Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah may also resign by the end of the year.

Three DOJ lawyers refused to support AG Jeff Sessions’ decision to not support the Affordable Care Act, but senior career Justice Department official Joel McElvain flat-out resigned. GOP Congress failed to repeal the law so Sessions will try to kill the ACA by not defending the law of the United States.

At the beginning of June, Rudy Guiliani yelled at his son for making out with his wife at the theater. Now 32-year-old Andrew Giuliani lost access to the White House without an escort despite his $77,000 a year job in the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs. Chief of staff John Kelly and others also won’t promote Andrew because he “subverts the chain of command” and has other workplace issues. Rudy Giuliani disappeared from media for over a week after his denigrating comments about Stormy Daniels appearance. Maybe because his current wife, Judith Nathan, went to the media about his affairs, one of them with married New Hampshire hospital administrator Maria Rosa Ryan.

Some jobs in the White House are vital, for example taping together documents that DDT regularly tears up in his ignorance of the law. Former records management analyst Solomon Lartey and Reginald Young Jr., each making over $60,000 a year, have been fired for no reasons from their positions to repair notes and memos that DDT tears up for preservation according to the Presidential Records Act. Other workers are still taping papers back together again.

Another important government job responsibility is to keep track of DDT’s loyalists—and a black list of those who seem less than loyal. Mari Stull, former food lobbyist and wine blogger and currently senior adviser at the State Department, maintains a list of government officials and employees of international organizations and agencies, examining social media for political disagreement and past support of any of President Obama’s policies. Included are people who work for such agencies as the World Health Organization and the United Nations. People on the black list are kept out of meetings, and her actions are causing three assistant secretaries of state—Molly Phee, Erin Barclay, and Nerissa Cook—to quit or change agencies.

DDT may manage one nomination this coming week, Kathy Kraninger as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Interim director Mick Mulvaney has already eliminated the “protection” part of the agency, so Kraninger’s lack of experience in finance, banking, and consumer issues is irrelevant. She will, however, follow Mulvaney’s leadership of no government and regulations while promoting business interests.

Little climate news hits the mainstream media these days, but WashPo has reported that the melting Antarctica’s ice sheet is annually dumping 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean which raises sea levels one-half millimeter a year, tripling in the last decade. There goes Miami—and a lot more East Coast homes.

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