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TBR News July 28, 2018

Jul 28 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8

Washington, D.C. July 28, 2018: ”Landlords, like pit bulls, can be decent but can also be vicious, greedy and thourougly dangerous.Here are some ideas about how a victimized tenant can respond to a ruthless landlord.

If a tenant is being harassed by a landlord, threatened with eviction because the rent check is a day late, refused property repairs the landlord is responsible for, there are responses that are very effective, if very unkind.

Here are a number of responses by the harassed tenant that actually work.

One can take off the plates for electric wall sockets and put pieces of uncooked shellfish, like crab or better, prawns, into the openings. Replace the plate and within a week, the stench of the rotting shellfish would gag a maggot.

Spots of hydrofluoric acid, which etches glass, can be daubed on random windows. This cannot be removed and the glass must be replaced at the landlord’s expense.

Toothpicks stuck into all the locks on doors inside and outside will jam the lock when a key is inserted and cannot be removed without the services of a locksmith

If the center pin of a door hinge is removed, the opening squirted with crazy glue and the pin replaced, the door is jammed in place and the hinge has to be taken off the door and cleaned.

A pan of urine, if placed in the oven, will emit truly terrible smells while it is slowly cooking at 170 degrees. The urine boils away, leaving a crust in the pan but the smell lingers on.

Or one could drill a hole in the top of a hollow-core door with shellfish dropped into the hole. This smells terrible in decay and leaves stains on the door that flies love to cluster on.

And in the kitchen and bathroom one can empty a large container of Metamucil into the drain and put a bit of water in after it. The water will react with the Metamucil and cause it to swell up and plug the pipes so that nothing can get past the plug. This means a plumber had to clean out the drains at considerable expense.

Garage doors can have crazy glue squirted into their mechanisim and the door will refuse to open.

A few roofing nails scattered at random on the driveway will ruin tires.

Outside, if one were to scatter rock salt (easily and cheaply obtained) all over the lawns, around the roots of shrubs, etc. when it rains, or someone uses a garden hose on the areas, the salt melts, percolates into the ground and kills the vegetation.

When a tenant moves out, he can put in a mail forward with the local post office to some address in a big city with hundreds of offices, like the Empire State Building in New York or the Bank of America building in San Francisco. The bill collectors would have no luck locating a target. Or, to be exotic, a new address could be ‘Poste Restante, Lugano, Schweiz’ which is a general delivery address in Switzerland.

Or just before moving, an ad could be called into the local paper letting the readers know that a yard sale, to include antique guns, gold coins and other treasures, will be held at the target address on the following Saturday. This will result in crowds of buyers jamming the neighborhood and trampling the lawns.

One could also send in subscription cards for hundreds of expensive magazines (found inside magazines in a local book store) to a non existent person with a provocative name such as ‘Ben Dova,’ ‘Mike Hunt,’ or ‘Jack Mehoff’ to the rental office involved. If these bills are not paid promptly, the magazine companies immediately turn the delinquent’s name in to a local bill collector. The results of this can be extremely entertaining.

In any case, the goal is to keep the house off the market and cause the nasty landlord considerable out of pocket expenses.

This could not happen to nicer people!”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Uneasy Living
  • Why so many people fall for scams
  • Hundreds of children not reunited by Trump administration as deadline passes
  • Conversations with the Crow
  • Trump and Cohen: pair who shared special bond headed for fatal split

 

 

Uneasy Living

  • Spiders, sewage and a flurry of fees – the other side of renting a house from Wall Street
  • Invitation Homes, the largest landlord of single-family houses in the U.S., boasts of providing a uniquely “worry free” experience. Tenants don’t always agree, and critics of big money’s push into the business say complaints about skimpy upkeep and excessive fees show the company puts investors first.

July 27, 2018

by Michelle Conlin

Reuters

ESPARTO, California – The rental home seemed so beautiful when McKayla Ferreira first laid eyes on it. The roof had three gables, fruit trees grew in the backyard, and the front porch gleamed with a fresh coat of paint.

Then Ferreira moved in.

First, she noticed water leaking through the bathroom and kitchen ceilings. Then she found a furry black mold spreading across the walls and raw sewage sluicing through the crawl space. Worst, to her, were the black widow spiders swarming her kitchen cupboards and linen closets. “Those spiders were so big you could hear them,” Ferreira said. “They sounded like fingernails scraping a table.”

Ferreira called her landlord, Invitation Homes Inc, a creation of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP. The spiders were a “housekeeping issue,” the company representative told her, and she should “clean the place up.” Invitation Homes wasn’t enthusiastic about fixing the leaks, either. Two months passed before it sent someone to cut through the ceiling and fix the pipes, Ferreira said. Then the company took seven more months to patch it all up.

By the time the next tenants, Jennifer and Mike White, settled into the house on Craig Street, the spiders had been joined by colonies of roaches and ants, the couple said.

After Whitney Hurst and her family moved into the property last year, Hurst said, she immediately called in a work order for a long list of complaints, including leaky pipes, vermin and a broken garage door that nearly fell on her children. She said the repairman who showed up to fix one of the leaks told her that he didn’t have the right wrench for the job and to “have your husband fix it.”

“I have given up calling them,” Hurst said, sitting in a lawn chair in her driveway, while her two boys, ages 3 and 9, played hide-and-seek inside. “I mean, there are spiders in my kids’ toys.”

An Invitation Homes spokeswoman acknowledged that the house had some problems when Ferreira rented it, including roof and plumbing leaks and “a spider issue.” The company said it compensated Ferreira $887.30 for maintenance and utility billing issues caused by the plumbing leak, plus two weeks’ rent. It said its records show that other issues with subsequent tenants have been “minimal” – termites and a problem with the heating and cooling system – and that they were addressed.

Invitation Homes pitches itself as a singular landlord providing unprecedented ease and comfort for renters of its tens of thousands of single-family homes. But in interviews with scores of the company’s tenants in neighborhoods across the United States, the picture that emerges isn’t as much one of exceptional service as it is one of leaky pipes, vermin, toxic mold, nonfunctioning appliances and months-long waits for repairs.

Tenants also complain about excessive rent increases and fees that can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. In a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in May in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, renters accuse the company of “fee-stacking.” They allege that Invitation Homes charges tenants $95 if their rent is one minute late – even if the late payment is due to the company’s own nonfunctioning online payment portal – and then files an eviction notice to add more fees, penalties and legal costs if the tenant wants to stay in the home.

Invitation Homes filed a motion on July 20 to dismiss the case, saying the suit did not substantiate that the company’s fees were “unfair” and that the plaintiff lacked standing to assert the claims on behalf of tenants nationwide.

This is far from the alluring vision of life in a rental home that Invitation Homes has promoted since Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm, built the company on the wreckage of the foreclosure crisis.

As a Blackstone vehicle, Invitation Homes led Wall Street’s charge into the single-family-home rental business, snapping up houses at fire-sale prices. After its merger last November with Starwood Waypoint Homes, another private-equity-backed foray into the market, Invitation Homes became the largest landlord of single-family homes in the United States by number of rental units.

Today, Invitation Homes manages 82,000 properties, most of them entry-level three- and four-bedroom houses in 17 metropolitan areas concentrated in the Sun Belt. Its portfolio – though still less than one percent of the overall single-family rental market – is 58 percent larger than that of its nearest competitor, American Homes 4 Rent.

PROMOTING THE GOOD LIFE

With its vast resources, Dallas, Texas-based Invitation Homes boasts that it has revolutionized the business of managing single-family rental homes and the experience of living in them. In a traditionally fusty mom-and-pop business, it says in marketing materials, it has created a uniquely “worry free” living environment that promises “peace of mind” with “exceptional resident services,” including “24/7 emergency maintenance.”

Chief Operating Officer Charles Young disputed tenant allegations of slumlord-like behavior. He noted that Invitation Homes serves hundreds of thousands of customers a year and that in internal company surveys, those tenants give the company 4.32 out of 5 stars. “From time to time, things happen,” Young said in an interview. “But when there’s an issue, we work hard to resolve it as quickly as we can.”

Affordable-housing advocates, real estate professionals and other critics of Wall Street’s push into the rental market say the tenant complaints suggest that rapid growth has stretched Invitation Homes’ ability to manage its properties. They also assert that there’s a deeper problem: Invitation Homes, like some of its Wall Street-backed peers, adheres to a business model that pressures it to lean hard on tenants to satisfy investors.

These companies have financed their growth by selling billions of dollars in bonds – the rental-market equivalent of the mortgage-backed securities that led to the financial crisis – to pension funds and other big institutions. Industry critics say that to keep payments to bond investors rolling, companies like Invitation Homes must minimize maintenance costs and maximize rents and fees.

“We see securitization of rental income as highly problematic,” said Kevin Stein, deputy director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing. Among other things, he said, it “pits Wall Street investors against Invitation tenants.”

Among those tenants is Contrell Wethersby in Atlanta, who told Reuters she had to go for more than a year without heat or a functioning refrigerator, stove, microwave or garage door – not to mention having to endure a leaky ceiling and black mold.

Invitation Homes said it is committed to operating in accordance with all federal, state and local housing laws. It said its records showed that Wethersby’s issues did not persist for any significant length of time and that work crews had trouble scheduling with her. The company did not provide its records for Wethersby or any other tenants.

Some renters, like Willie Jean Brister in Los Angeles, have seen their rent increase by as much as 50 percent over three years. During that time, Brister has filed work orders for an exterminator and repairs on a bathtub, faucets, bathroom door, cabinet doors, fence, hot water and garbage disposal – all of them reviewed by Reuters on the company’s web portal. The grandmother with five children in the house said the portal keeps saying “ ‘work completed,’ but the work is never completed. You get worn out, like you are paying all this rent and not getting any services.”

Others, like Heather Tolaro, said they and their children became ill from toxic mold in their houses. Tolaro sued Invitation Homes in federal court in Illinois, alleging that the company refused to acknowledge or fix the problem. The case was settled for undisclosed terms.

Rosa D’Amico said that after one heavy rain, she watched as water poured into her Chicago rental home, destroying much of her personal property. The house, stinking of sewage, was uninhabitable. Invitation Homes eventually agreed for D’Amico and her family to move to a different house, but she said she had to pay the $1,800 bill for the move. Then that house flooded.

“It was poop water, sewer water, so I had to throw everything out,” D’Amico said. “And they never paid me a penny.” She now lives in a rental nearby.

The company said it was pleased to continue to serve the Bristers. It said its records show that all the repairs Brister had requested were made, to which Brister responded: “They patch things, they don’t fix things.”

It declined to comment on Tolaro’s case, citing the confidential settlement. As for D’Amico, Invitation Homes confirmed that the first house “suffered water damage.” It described the problem with the second house as an “odor” resulting from dry traps in the sink, floor and laundry drains, all of which were “serviced.”

Invitation Homes went public in February 2017. Blackstone still owns a 42 percent stake, valued at $5.1 billion. Blackstone is now in the process of buying a majority stake in the financial-services division of Thomson Reuters Corp, owner of Reuters News, in a deal valued at $20 billion. The transaction is expected to close in late summer. Blackstone and its chief executive officer, Stephen Schwarzman, declined to comment for this article.

NO OTHER CHOICE

In the interview, Invitation Homes COO Young said that rather than putting the squeeze on renters, the company’s business model gives families the “optionality and freedom” to live in the kinds of good homes in good school districts near good jobs that they may not be able to afford to buy. “We are providing a housing option that didn’t exist before,” he said.

He rejected assertions that the company skimps on repairs and maintenance to support payouts to investors. “In the consumer business, we know things are not always spot on,” he said. “We ultimately are trying to do the right thing by our communities and for our residents to provide the service we can live up to.”

Young also reiterated the company’s assertion that its investments in renovations and property upkeep have helped foreclosure-ravaged neighborhoods recover, and that 70 percent of its tenants renew their leases.

At Reuters’ request, the company provided the names of five satisfied renters. Two responded, saying they were pleased with the company. One of them, Melissa Grant of Atlanta, said Invitation Homes was an “awesome company” for, among other things, making homes “available to families like me who are in the military and need to move around a lot.” The other three tenants did not respond to repeated phone messages.

Some tenants told Reuters they renewed not because they loved their rentals, but because they felt they had to: The company owns so much of the available housing in their neighborhoods that they had no alternatives if they wanted to keep their kids in the same school, or remain close to jobs or relatives. And moving itself is a big expense.

“You can’t just jump up and move with children,” Brister said.

While Invitation Homes’ portfolio represents less than one percent of single-family rental homes nationwide, the figure can be much higher in markets where the company’s inventory is concentrated. In some neighborhoods in California, for example, Invitation Homes owns as much as 25 percent of single-family rentals, according to an analysis of Census and property data by Maya Abood, a former researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Urban Planning Program who co-authored a recent study titled “Wall Street Landlords Turn American Dream into American Nightmare.”

Invitation Homes has been raising rents by as much as an average of 10 percent a year in places like Oakland, California – nearly double the norm in that market – according to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), an advocacy group. At the same time, the company has been adding to the types of fees it charges tenants – not just for late payments, but for things like rent paid on debit cards, which incurs a $30 charge.

Fees have helped lift earnings by 20 to 30 percent a year. In a recent earnings call, the company attributed rising profits in part to its “system” to “track resident delinquency on a daily basis.” This system allows the company to start charging fees and penalties the minute a tenant fails to pay on time.

The company’s stock price has risen about 11 percent since last year’s initial public offering. Wall Street analysts have almost uniformly rated the stock a “buy.”

Analysts’ optimism reflects, in part, that while scores of federal, state and local rules protect homebuyers when taking out a mortgage and renters in multi-unit apartment buildings, few protections exist for tenants of single-family homes, housing lawyers and affordable-housing advocates said.

“Allowing hedge funds and private equity firms to speculate on housing with little-to-no public oversight or regulation puts families at greater risk of unfair rent increases and evictions, and threatens the right to housing itself,” Abood said.

A December 2016 Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta analysis found that Wall Street landlords are far more likely to file eviction notices than mom-and-pop landlords. It said Colony Starwood – as Starwood Waypoint was known until shortly before the merger with Invitation Homes – filed eviction notices on more than 30 percent of tenants, while Invitation Homes filed notices on nearly 15 percent. The strongest predictor of whether a tenant would get an eviction notice was if the tenant was African-American, the Atlanta Fed said.

The analysis didn’t specify which companies were responsible for the eviction notices disproportionately filed on African-Americans. Invitation Homes said it treats all residents equally. The company spokesperson noted that an eviction notice is a “procedural step” in a landlord’s effort to collect rent, and that “the vast majority of those who received eviction notices ultimately were resolved without the resident being put out of their home.”

In California, groups of Invitation Homes tenants, organized by ACCE, have stormed the offices of Blackstone three times to demand an end to what they say are the business’s worst practices, such as forgoing repairs and hiking rents.

Last October, more than three dozen renters of homes across Los Angeles burst through the front door of Blackstone’s headquarters in Santa Monica, shaking noisemakers, honking sirens and chanting through megaphones: “Hey, Blackstone, shame on you,” “Slumlord,” and, “You being evicted, Blackstone!”

Blackstone executives rushed out of the building through the emergency exits and the back door.

On office desks, the tenants left letters addressed to Blackstone CEO Schwarzman, asking for a moratorium on rent increases, an end to “outrageous fees,” proper maintenance on homes and a meeting with Blackstone executives.

After 20 minutes, security personnel threw them out.

An Invitation Homes spokesperson said the company got back to all the renters about their complaints.

Lupita Gonzalez, the ACCE organizer, said: “We never heard anything. We never heard back.” Reuters was able to contact four of the renters who participated in the October protest, all of whom said they never heard from the company.

KEEPING INVESTORS HAPPY

The business of being landlord of a single-family home was for years a small, local affair. But after the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street saw an opportunity: Buy houses in bulk in “strike zones,” industry parlance for high foreclosure neighborhoods with good schools, well-maintained transportation systems and healthy job growth.

Then the firms could rent the properties to the kinds of families that would normally buy – householders who are on average 39 years old with young children and an average income of $100,000 or more. Today, nine big Wall Street firms collectively own more than 200,000 single-family homes in 13 states.

Invitation Homes says it spent an average of $200,000 per house to build its portfolio, and $22,000 each on renovations and repairs. To pay for all of that, it pioneered a new asset class, so-called single-family rental securities, or SFRs. Since 2013, Wall Street landlords have sold more than $15 billion of the bonds. As supply has tightened and prices risen in real estate markets, Invitation Homes has slowed expansion of its portfolio. Now, it largely rolls over existing bonds, paying investors out of rent and fees from tenants.

In September, the government-sponsored entity Fannie Mae lent its blessing to this new market, guaranteeing the refinancing on a $1 billion Invitation Homes rental-backed bond.

That imprimatur prompted more than 25 groups – affordable-housing advocates like the Community Home Lenders Association and rival business groups such as the National Association of Realtors – to complain to Fannie Mae’s overseer, the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA), that the deal strayed from Fannie Mae’s stated mission of supporting home ownership. Invitation Homes’ business model, they said, risked pushing up rents and reducing the inventory of affordable homes.

Corinne Russell, spokesperson for the FHFA, said the agency had authorized such transactions to help Fannie Mae and its sibling agency, Freddie Mac, “understand the challenges and opportunities in the single-family rental market … and help FHFA assess what role, if any, the Enterprises should play in this market going forward.”

A spokesman for Fannie Mae said: “This transaction is a great opportunity to continue to serve the growing single-family rental market. Invitation Homes is a strong partner with deep experience managing a large volume of single-family rental properties.”

Just as Fannie Mae was lending its federally backed support to one of Invitation Homes’ bonds, regulators began looking into the securities.

At issue are the home valuations Invitation Homes relied on for its bonds. The higher the valuation, the higher the expected rent, and thus the more investors are willing to pay for the bonds.

To get a mortgage, homebuyers typically must have a licensed inspector conduct an appraisal of the house. To price its bonds, however, Invitation Homes relied on so-called broker price opinions, or BPOs. These less-expensive alternatives were provided mostly by outside firms using independent contractors who were not licensed appraisers.

Many of these contractors relied only on exterior views of the houses – no interior inspections – according to regulatory filings. The filings also indicate that the contractors were told to assume that the interiors had been remodeled to the standards advertised on the Invitation Homes website. Congress outlawed BPOs after the foreclosure crisis, but the ban doesn’t apply to institutional investors buying homes in bulk.

In September, Invitation Homes disclosed in a regulatory filing that it had received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting documents and communications related to its securitizations. In its accompanying letter to Invitation Homes, the SEC said it was looking at the valuations the company relied on to price its bonds.

The SEC would not comment on the investigation, nor would Invitation Homes. In its regulatory filing, the company said: “The SEC letter indicates that its investigation is a fact-finding inquiry and does not mean that the SEC has a negative opinion of any person or security. We are cooperating with the SEC.”

A look inside the bond that Fannie Mae backed shows how Invitation Homes’ model is working. From each of the 7,204 houses bundled into the bond, the Fannie Mae prospectus shows, the company earned in 2016 an average monthly rent of $1,538 and $985 in annual “other income,” defined as fees for, among other things, “pets or cleaning.”

At the same time, the company spent an average of $1,142 a year on repairs, maintenance and turnover costs, based on the bond data. That’s less than the $3,100 a year Americans tend to spend on maintenance, repairs and improvements on houses of the same age as Invitation Homes’ portfolio, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey by BTIG equity analyst Ryan Gilbert.

The company said the $1,142 figure is “not representative” because it doesn’t include the $750 the company reserves per home for capital expenditures should the property need a “major system replacement.”

Five former employees said Invitation Homes routinely didn’t spend enough on repairs or hire enough contractors to get the job done. One former maintenance contractor said that he oversaw 2,000 homes scattered across one metropolis and that he couldn’t possibly keep up.

On a recent tour the company provided for Reuters in Atlanta, executives walked through a newly renovated four-bedroom house in a development called Legacy Court, where tenants have access to tennis courts, a pool, pocket parks and a community center.

The executives led Reuters on what they said was their standard walk-through prior to every rental, entailing inspection of 250 items.  A maintenance manager checked every knob, outlet, spout, latch, doorstop, lightbulb, blind and appliance. He ran the dishwasher, filled the tub and tested the garbage disposal. “We test, touch and feel everything, fixture by fixture, before renting out the house,” he said.

STILL RENTING

Income from the house with the black widow spiders on Craig Street in Esparto, California, is in the Fannie Mae-backed bond.

The house had been owned by the same couple for nearly 10 years before they lost it to foreclosure in 2012. For five months, the house sat empty. Then, in September 2012, property records show, Fannie Mae sold it to Blackstone for $173,000.

The following year, McKayla Ferreira moved in. Around the time she began noticing the spiders and the sewage, Blackstone was packaging the house’s rental income into one of its bonds.

Though the Fannie Mae bond does not break out address-level data, Reuters was able to identify the Craig Street house by cross-referencing the bond’s data with local property records, sales documents and other information.

The bond notes that Invitation Homes spent $370 in 2016 on maintenance and repairs for the Craig Street house. The company said costs associated with the house should also include lease turnover expenses – what a landlord spends to prepare a house for a new renter – which added $2,703 to 2016 expenses.

Ferreira said she paid her rent on time, but Invitation Homes often claimed it never received the money and staple-gunned eviction notices to her front door. It insisted she pay a 10 percent late fee, plus other penalties, on her $1,300-a-month rent – or lose her lease. Ferreira would send canceled checks to the company, only to watch the same scenario unfold the following month.

Invitation Homes acknowledged that when Ferreira was a tenant, the company was “in its infancy” and that some billing and receivables systems had “yet to be refined.” The company also said it reversed the charges and had established additional processes “to help prevent this from occurring in the future.”

Two subsequent renters said some billing errors continued. Invitation Homes said its records show no such issues.

All three families had hoped to save money while living on Craig Street for a down payment to buy a home. All said that fees and unexpected expenses ate into those savings.

Whitney Hurst and her family are still renting the house on Craig Street. The two previous tenants are renting from other landlords.

Edited by John Blanton

 

Why so many people fall for scams

A psychology professor delves into the common tricks that scammers employ to suck people in – and the types of people most likely to part with their money.

July 27, 2018

by Stacey Wood,

The Conversation,

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, and is republished under a Creative Commons licence. The author is Stacey Wood, professor of psychology at Scripps College.

If you have a mailbox, you probably get junk mail. If you have an email account, you probably get spam. If you have a phone, you probably get robocalls.

Unwanted messages and solicitations bombard us on a regular basis. Most of us hit ignore or delete or toss junk mail in the rubbish knowing that these messages and solicitations are most likely so-called mass-market scams. Others aren’t so lucky.

Scams cost individuals, organisations and governments trillions of dollars each year in estimated losses, and many victims endure depression and ill health. There is no other crime, in fact, that affects so many people from almost all ages, backgrounds and geographical locations.

But why do people fall prey to these scams? My colleagues and I set out to answer this question. Some of our findings are in line with other research, but others challenge common assumptions about fraud.

Scams on the rise

Sweepstakes, lottery and other mass-market scams have become surprisingly common in recent years.

The Better Business Bureau reported approximately 500,000 complaints related to just sweepstake and lottery scams over the past three years, with losses of almost $350 million.

In the past, scams like these were perpetrated by relatively small local players and often done face-to-face, perhaps at an investment seminar for a bogus real estate opportunity.

Scams still happen the old-fashioned way, but today many more are being coordinated by transnational teams, including by groups in Jamaica, Costa Rica, Canada and Nigeria.

In recent years, fraud has grown into a pervasive global criminal activity as technology has lowered its cost while simultaneously making it easier than ever to reach millions of consumers instantly.

It is also much harder to catch and prosecute these criminals. For example, a robocall may appear on your caller ID as if it’s coming from your area code but in fact it’s originating in India.

Why people get taken for a ride

In order to study consumer susceptibility to mass-market scams, my co-authors and I reviewed 25 “successful” mass-market scam solicitations, obtained from the Los Angeles Postal Inspector’s office, in search for common themes.

For example, many of them included some type of familiar brand name, like Marriott or Costco, to increase their credibility and “authority.” Scammers frequently use persuasion techniques like pretending to be a legitimate business and using local area codes to foster familiarity. Or they make time-sensitive claims to increase motivation. Some of the letters we reviewed were quite colourful and included images of money or prizes and past “winners.” Others were much more businesslike and included legal-sounding text, to also create an aura of legitimacy.

We then crafted a prototype one-page solicitation letter that informed consumers they were “already a winner” and listed an “activation number” they would need to contact to claim their prize. We created four versions, which we assigned at random, intended to either manipulate authority (“We obtained your name from Target”) or pressure (“Act by June 30th”) to determine what persuasion factors motivated consumers more to respond.

The study was designed to replicate real scenarios – although participants knew they were part of an experiment – and examine factors that we suspected increased risk, such as comfort with math and numbers, loneliness and less income.

In our first experiment, we asked 211 participants to indicate their willingness to contact the activation number on the letter. They were then asked to rate the benefits and risks of responding to the letter on a 10-point scale and fill out a survey intended to identify their level of numeracy, social isolation, demographics and financial status.

We found that 48% of participants indicated some willingness to contact the number regardless of which type of letter they received. The consumers who indicated they would have responded to this solicitation tended to have fewer years of education and be younger. These participants also tended to rate the risks of contact as low and the benefits as high.

In a second experiment involving 291 individuals, we used the letters from the first one but added an activation fee to half of them. That is, some participants were informed that to “activate” their winnings they had to pay a $5 fee, while others were told it was $100. The rest saw no change from the previous experiment, and all other aspects of the design were identical except for a few additional survey questions related to participants’ financial situations.

We hypothesised that individuals who were willing to call and pay $100 would mean they’re especially vulnerable to this type of scam.

Even with the activation fee, 25% of our sample indicated some willingness to contact the number provided – including more than a fifth of those told it would cost $100.

Similar to the first experiment, individuals who rated the solicitation as having high benefits were more likely to signal intention to contact. We thought this experiment would help us identify some special vulnerable subtype, like the elderly, but instead, the interested consumers in both experiments were exactly the same – those who saw the potential for high benefits as outweighing the risks. There were no significant differences based on age, gender or other demographics we looked at.

Even though about 60% identified the solicitations as likely a scam, they also still viewed the opportunity as potentially beneficial. In some ways these advance fee scams may act as unofficial lotteries – a low cost of entry and a high chance of failure. While consumers are wary, they don’t completely write off the possibility of a big payoff, and some clearly are willing to undertake the risk.

 

Hundreds of children not reunited by Trump administration as deadline passes

Government says it was reuniting 1,800 children it considers eligible but 700 remain in custody without their families

July 27, 2018

by Amanda Holpuch in New York

The Guardian

Hundreds of migrant children the Trump administration separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border were not reunited with their families by the court-ordered Thursday midnight deadline.

The Trump administration claimed Thursday that more than 1,800 children five years and older had been reunited with parents or sponsors hours before the deadline set in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in California’s southern district court. US government attorneys said in court documents that these were children they considered eligible for reunification.

But the ACLU, immigration advocates and attorneys have challenged the government’s determination of which of the 2,500-plus separated children in the lawsuit are eligible for reunification.

“We will be asking for information about all of these individuals,” said Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney leading the lawsuit against the Trump administration.

Before the Thursday deadline, advocates and attorneys working with separated children and adults said they were concerned about a group of 711 children who the government said were not eligible to be reunited.

This group includes parents the government deported while their children remained in the US, who waived their reunification right, and who the government said were a “red flag” because of criminal history. Of the group that remain separated, 431 were children whose parents had been deported.

In a joint status report filed with the government, the ACLU urged the Trump administration to provide more details on this group. The ACLU also said there were “troubling” cases in a list of children provided by the government, which included 40 children with no parental information.

Advocates and attorneys said this week that they have spoken to parents who they believe were coerced into being deported without their children.

Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, has been visiting detention centers and children’s shelters in recent weeks and said advocates “had no idea” what information deported parents had been given. “It’s clear from early on in this process parents were being deported with no reference and no attempt or no choice to be reunified with their children,” Brané said.

DHS said in court documents that it complied with orders to provide immigrants with notices of their rights in Spanish and English.

One document, prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), includes three checkboxes depicting the stark reality parents immediately face if they lose their immigration case: “I would like to take my child with me”; “I do NOT want to take my child with me”, and “I do not have a lawyer and I want to talk with a lawyer”.

The ACLU’s Gelernt said tracking the deported parents down would be “an enormous task”.

“At the moment they [the government] have not laid out anything close to a plan for how they are going to do it,” Gelernt said.

Attorneys are also worried about what happens to reunited families, who are either held in family detention or released as they wait for their immigration case to be tried.

Lisa Frydman, vice-president of regional policies and initiatives for advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense (Kind), said: “Kids are really confused, had major trust violations, and some of them are angry at their parents because they think it was their fault. There is a lot of confusion and a lot of harm that these children experienced.”

Kind is handling the cases of more than 100 children and, like other groups, said it was not getting consistent advanced notice about what was happening to the children it represents, who are often transported in the middle of the night.

Maria Odom, Kind’s vice-president of legal services, said two children the group was particularly concerned about were a nine-year-old and 14-year-old who were discharged from a shelter but their mother was deported before they could be reunited with her. “We have not been able to locate the children and we are mentioning them as an example of how there are children who have been placed in this black hole of reunification,” Odom said.

Advocates are encountering the same problems with adults, who they said were also being reunited and released at night with little or no warning to their lawyers. Volunteers wait in bus shelters, detention center parking lots and at churches with food, bus tickets and legal assistance for the families.

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy.

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired.

Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks.”

Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

One of Crowley’s first major assignments within the agency was to assist in the recruitment and management of prominent World War II Nazis, especially those with advanced intelligence experience. One of the CIA’s major recruitment coups was Heinrich Müller, once head of Hitler’s Gestapo who had fled to Switzerland after the collapse of the Third Reich and worked as an anti-Communist expert for Masson of Swiss counterintelligence. Müller was initially hired by Colonel James Critchfield of the CIA, who was running the Gehlen Organization out of Pullach in southern Germany. Crowley eventually came to despise Critchfield but the colonel was totally unaware of this, to his later dismay.

Crowley’s real expertise within the agency was the Soviet KGB. One of his main jobs throughout his career was acting as the agency liaison with corporations like ITT, which the CIA often used as fronts for moving large amounts of cash off their books. He was deeply involved in the efforts by the U.S. to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile, which eventually got him into legal problems with regard to investigations of the U.S. government’s grand jury where he has perjured himself in an agency cover-up

After his retirement, Crowley began to search for someone who might be able to write a competent history of his career. His first choice fell on British author John Costello (author of Ten Days to Destiny, The Pacific War and other works) but, discovering that Costello was a very aggressive homosexual, he dropped him and tentatively turned to Joseph Trento who had assisted Crowley and William Corson in writing a book on the KGB. When Crowley discovered that Trento had an ambiguous and probably cooperative relationship with the CIA, he began to distrust him and continued his search for an author.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.

In 1998, when Crowley was slated to go into the hospital for exploratory surgery, he had his son, Greg, ship two large foot lockers of documents to Douglas in Wisconsin with the caveat that they were not to be opened until after Crowley’s death. These documents, totaled an astonishing 15,000 pages of CIA classified files involving many covert operations, both foreign and domestic, during the Cold War.

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Müller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

He has.

Conversation No. 3

Date: Saturday, February 24, 1996

Commenced: 1:30 PM (CST)

Concluded: 2:11 PM (CST)

 

GD: Good afternoon, Robert. Been to church today?

RTC: And good afternoon to you. Not today. Have you?

GD: I’ve been in many churches in my life but for the architecture, not the services.

RTC: I’ve never asked you, Gregory but are you Catholic?

GD: In taste, Robert, but not in faith. I told Bender what you had to say about the UFOs but did not credit you. I called you a senior intelligence official.

RTC: I appreciate that. What did he say?

GD: A subject that will be covered but in its place. Your point of view is that there were so-called official saucers used by the military and unofficial ones that no one knows anything about. Correct?

RTC: Correct.

GD: But by unofficial I don’t mean Russian.

RTC: Yes.

GD: I don’t suppose there’s paper on this?

RTC: The Air Force would have it but we don’t. We had nothing to do with it but it was common knowledge that there were visitors not from this world.

GD: I don’t want to spend much time on this because if I do, the critics will jump on it and claim I’m a Flying Saucer Nut. They already hate me and this would only give them more ammunition.

RTC: When I read your first book, didn’t I tell you this would happen? You can’t claim you were surprised.

GD: Yes, but they are so fucking stupid, pardon the French. ‘Oh hello Mr. Douglas! My name is Edgar Quince and I’m a reporter for TIME magazine. We were really thrilled to read your landmark book on the Gestapo fellow and we want to do an interview with you. Do you have any documents proving he worked for the CIA? We could put you on the cover of TIME! Wouldn’t that be exciting? We could fly a team out to see you tomorrow. And we want to see any CIA papers. By the way, what’s your home address?’ When I said stupid, that’s a typical example.

RTC: Well, they really aren’t all that bright, unfortunately. Don’t forget, Gregory, I had to deal with the media for years. Cord and Frank did the publishing companies and I worked with media corporate. We had a death grip on them. Couldn’t and wouldn’t print a word if we told them not to or ran puff pieces we wanted out.

GD: My late grandfather told me that once a newspaper man, always a whore.

RTC: Let’s call them sluts, not whores. We rarely paid them and they just did it to make us happy.

GD: That’s a difference without much of distinction, Robert. Did you have to take a shower after each and every meeting? Use Lysol to get off the stench?

RTC: I’ve had to work with business executives, Gregory, and they’re worse. Believe me, the Mafia are more to be trusted. Don’t forget I was raised in Chicago and my father was a cog in the Kelly-Nash machine so I got to know some of the mob people.

GD: My grandfather was a Chicago banker and I remember him saying once that the Ambassador belonged in Alcatraz along with his crime partner Capone.

RTC: Your grandfather was right. Kennedy was tied up with the Chicago mob in the liquor business. Capone got crossed by Kennedy and put out a hit on him. Kennedy took the next train to Chicago with a satchel filled with large denomination bills. Paid Capone back the money with great interest and Alfonso forgave him.

GD: Some history we have never heard before.

RTC: How did your grandfather know about this? Was he involved?

GD: No. He was involved with the Merchandise Mart and I guess that’s where he met Kennedy. Grandfather said he was an unconvicted bootlegger.

RTC: True enough. Joe wanted to run his oldest for the White House but Roosevelt put a spoke into that plan. Franklin wanted to die in office…

GD: Which he did…

RTC: And the eldest son had a fatal accident in England.

GD: I know. I covered that in the first book.

RTC: The kid was supposed to pilot a plane full of explosives to a German V bomb base, parachute out and let the plane blow it up. Churchill, ever a good friend when Franklin was alive and giving him support, arranged for a radio station near the airfield to send out a trigger code and blew young Kennedy into cat meat. One hand washes the other, doesn’t it?

GD: Bloodthirsty amoral shits, all of them. Müller told me once that when a man has achieved a certain elevation, morality goes down the tube. I remember his exact words. ‘Morality and ethics are excellent norms but not effective techniques.’

RTC; I met him several times. An impressive man to be sure. Speaking of Müller, I ran into someone several days ago at the National Archives. A wonderful man and a great supporter of your book.

GD: I didn’t think I had great friends inside the Beltway. Who was it? Corson?

RTC: No, that butt-licking Wolfe. Sidled up to me and went on about how evil you were and how much damage you were doing to his friends at the CIA. And probably were a secret Nazi who longed to shove Jews into the ovens. He wants to think that the CIA loves him but he’s just another stool pigeon to them. They give gift pens to ones like that.

GD: He’s always so nice to me but I trust him as far as I could throw him by his ears.

RTC: I wouldn’t. Anything you say to him, goes straight to Langley.

GD: Tell me I’m surprised. Wolfe’s as subtle as a fart in a spacesuit, but I keep filling him full of entertaining stories. I should send him a box of dignity pants before every phone session. Did you know that he got a top secret document for me out of the Archives? It was a ’48 Army General Staff report on top Nazis, listed as war criminals, that they and your people hired and brought over here?

RTC: Could you give me chapter and verse on that one?

GD: I’ll have to dig it out but I will.

RTC: Top secret you say?

GD: Release forbidden by presidential order.

RTC: Probably Truman’s doing. Yes, would appreciate a copy.

GD: No problem.

RTC: What do you plan to do with it?

GD: Publish the contents. Why not?

RTC: Oh somewhere out there a George Brown, actually a top Gestapo official who ran a death camp,who is an analyst for the Rand people. You’ll shock his neighbors.

GD: The Gestapo didn’t run any camps but I take your meaning.

RTC: Ah the images of Gestapo men in black overcoats with Dobermans, rounding up screaming Jews and shoving them into the showers is pretty well fixed in the American mind. If it ever gets out the degree and extent of those types we gratefully used, the Jewish community here will scream for months and, worse, use their papers to blast government types.

GD: I doubt that. They don’t want to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs. I see them turning on me as the announcer of matters they would rather ignore. Money and weapons have that effect on people.

RTC: You knew their Stern gang tried to kill Truman once? Harry may have gotten their ball rolling but he stopped shipments of explosives over there to stop the wave of bombings and so on. So they decided to kill him. As I remember, they sent anthrax to Harry in a letter but someone else got it. Kept very quiet. The secret service tracked the doers to Montreal and turned it over to us. We found five of them living in a safe house and nailed all of them. Ironically, they got rid of the bodies by dumping them into a local hog farm where the pigs ate them.

GD: Pigs will do that. I heard a farm person, who raised pigs, once say that his uncle disappeared. He said he went to shit and the hogs ate him. When I worked in Northern California, I could see that that was not really a joke. The outhouses are built on the side of a hill and open in the back. The pigs run wild up there and when they see someone going to the outhouse with a newspaper, they flock to the site. For them, it’s manna from heaven.

RTC: Have you no shame, Gregory? And the other one has escaped to Cuba so we got Batista’s people to ice him. By the way, did you know that the CIA put Castro in office? No? We were tired of Batista and some moron thought Castro would cooperate better with our business interests. He did not and both big business, Alcoa mostly, the mob and the Company tried for years to kill him. You don’t need to write about that if you please.

GD: Fine.

RTC: And the JCS was planning to fake Cuban attacks on American targets to justify a military attack? I didn’t think so. Eisenhower thought it was a wonderful idea but Kennedy killed it. Considering that his father was such a crook, it’s amazing how uncooperative his son was.

GD: You don’t have any paperwork on that on, do you?

RTC: No but believe me, it’s true.

GD: Did that have anything to do with the Kennedy business?

RTC: A contributory factor.

GD: Perhaps sometime we can discuss this.

RTC: Perhaps later.

GD: Eisenhower was a shit after all. He would have let tens of thousands of German POWs starve to death after the war but Truman saved them.

RTC: I went to the Point and under Ike’s picture in the yearbook, it referred to him as a Swedish Jew. I think they were German but you can see why he might have been upset with the Germans.

GD: Well, long ago, the Roosevelt family was Jewish. The name was Campo Rosso, changed to Rosenfeld and then to the Dutch, Roosevelt. I mean that was back in the 1600s but Franklin had a second cousin who was Orthodox until he died. If you dig back far enough, it’s amazing what you find.

RTC: Where did you dig that up?

GD: The Congressional Record, German genealogical agencies and so on. I do dig, Robert, don’t forget that. I never accept anything as fact until I’ve checked it out. The Costello business is an example. Murdered by the Russians? Try his black boyfriend he kept in a flat in Soho. Costello’s own brother was a British naval officer and he refused to take custody of the body. They probably cremated John and shipped the remains back to London. The boyfriend went to the post office and hauled John’s ashes for the last time.

RTC: (Laughter)

GD: Well, it’s apt.

RTC: You are a mean person, Gregory, very mean.

GD: Yes, I am. I once poured water on a drowning man, Robert. I have devastated small children by my revelations about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Cruel.

RTC: You’re a social Darwinist, Gregory, just like the rest of us.

GD: I agree but let’s not get the religious freaks exercised by mention of that awful name. The world is only 6,000 years old according to Bishop Ussher, and we dare not even question Holy Writ. I keep away from that when I write because God hath no fury like a Jesus freak deluded. Anyway, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof and on that uplifting note, I have to take the dog out or he will desecrate the carpet. Regards to the wife.

RTC: Always happy to hear from you, Gregory.

 

(Concluded at 2:11PM CST)

 

Trump and Cohen: pair who shared special bond headed for fatal split

Michael Cohen reportedly craved Trump’s approval – but there was also a personal intrigue that suggested hidden dimensions

July 28, 2018

by Tom McCarthy

The Guardian

For years, Michael Cohen was not so much Donald Trump’s employee as his understudy.Trump was the real estate titan; Cohen owned a few brick walkups. Trump put his name on buildings; Cohen bought condos in those buildings. Trump wore Brioni suits; Cohen sported Isaia. Trump said “bigly”, Cohen said “big time”.

But Cohen’s flattery of his boss went beyond mere imitation. According to multiple people who observed the relationship firsthand, Cohen craved Trump’s approval to an almost filial degree.

“Boss, I miss you so much,” Cohen reportedly told Trump in a phone call after the president moved into the White House, leaving Cohen, then his personal lawyer and a former vice-president in the Trump Organization, back in New York.

Snug as it once was, however, the relationship was headed for a catastrophic rupture.

External factors would be in part to blame. Trump’s explosive rise to power and a sudden meteor shower of criminal suspicions inevitably tagged Cohen, leaving him facing serious criminal charges of his own.

But there was also a personal intrigue at work, suggesting hidden dimensions to Cohen’s character – or at least to his feelings about Trump. It emerged this week that for all his public declarations of loyalty to Trump, Cohen had a secret – an insurance policy, perhaps – in the form of an iPhone in his pocket, set to record.

Investigators have seized as many as 100 audio files from Cohen, the Washington Post reported, including one released by Cohen’s own lawyer this week in which Trump can be heard discussing a cash payment apparently connected with a Playboy model’s story about an affair with Trump, which he denies.

Cohen is reportedly prepared to tell prosecutors about other stunning scenes. According to Cohen, Trump personally approved a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials and Russian operatives, multiple TV networks reported Thursday night. Trump previously said he first found out about the meeting a year after it happened.

If Cohen can reach a deal with prosecutors to provide more fly-on-the-wall testimony of moments like that, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators could gain a valuable new map of the hidden connections criss-crossing Trumpworld.

That prospect has clearly rattled Trump, who attacked his former aide on Friday. “Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam,” the president wrote on Twitter.

‘The human cost is incredible’

How dangerous is Cohen for Trump? Apart from what he might be able to tell Mueller, the former aide could provide evidence of alleged elections law violations by the Trump campaign, legal analysts say. Or Cohen could damage Trump politically, exploding the president’s credibility – what remains of it – in a way that would change the basic picture of the man and his leadership.

Or Cohen might unveil something truly shocking. Michael Avenatti, the ubiquitous lawyer for pornographic actor Stormy Daniels, announced on Thursday that “Donald Trump conspired with Michael Cohen to pay off multiple other women prior to election day in 2016” and “they were also concerned about a pregnancy”. Avenatti later tweeted that he was representing “three additional women. All paid hush money through various means.”

Michael Caputo, a former senior adviser on the Trump campaign, said the Avenatti accusations did not justify a reply. Trump has denied alleged relationships with Daniels and the Playboy model, Karen McDougal.

Mueller’s investigation of the campaigns’ ties to Russia, Caputo said, was “first and foremost destroying the strongest relationships” and that Cohen and Trump were Exhibit A.

“There is no relationship that’s safe in this investigation,” said Caputo. “Because here’s the thing. They don’t have evidence of Russian collusion, but they believe that it exists. They don’t know what it is that is there, but to prove that it exists they have to blow up the relationships. The human cost is incredible.”

Mueller has indicted 31 individuals, including 12 Russian intelligence agents, and three former Trump aides have reached plea deals with prosecutors. A fourth, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, awaits trial on multiple federal felony charges.

While Cohen is not thought yet to have struck a deal with prosecutors trailing Trump, the president has accused Cohen of violating his trust, tweeting this week: “What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So Sad!”

Cohen has fallen into a defensive posture, vowing to protect his family and casting himself as a servant of the truth, above any man.

Sam Nunberg, a political consultant who worked for Trump for years, said the fatal cleavage in the relationship came when Trump acted on son-in-law Jared Kushner’s advice not to bring Cohen to Washington.

“I would say in defense of Michael, this whole thing is a tragedy because Trump should have just given him a job at the White House,” Nunberg said. “Michael was extremely loyal to the president. But in the infinite wisdom of Trump’s wonderful son-in-law, that treasure, Jared Kushner, advising him not to have Michael get a job”, Cohen was sidelined.

“And I mean that very facetiously,” Nunberg said of his admiring words for Kushner.

It appears that the nasty fight between Cohen and Trump is about to get ugly, with Trump’s minions in the conservative media having branded Cohen a “rat”. Not so long ago, that would have been the ultimate insult for a man who styled himself as the ultimate loyalist to a boss he seemed to revere.

“I always saw Michael as fighting for the boss’s agenda every breath he took,” Caputo said. “But when I first heard that he might have been making recordings, I wasn’t surprised.

“Not because I think that Michael is the kind of person to do that. It’s just that people do strange and terrible things.”

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