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TBR News September 17, 2018

Sep 17 2018

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

Washington, D.C. September 17, 2018:” Cui bono? is a Latin phrase: ‘to whom is it a benefit?’ This is an excellent guide to a study of various official lies and excuses and it covers a multitude of sins.

Why, for instance, would the Russians want to poison a man in England, and in public, when they could have removed him permanently when he was in prison in Russia?

The US Government, on the other hand, did not want the man available to be questioned about Trump’s known Russian connection by the Mueller people.

And when that Malaysian airliner was shot down over the Ukraine, why would the Russians do this?

On the other hand, it is known in Washington that the CIA was trying to blacklist the Russians. And to further this program, their friends at the New York Times ran pictures of Russian soldiers and claimed they had invaded the Ukraine.

When it turned out the pictures were clearly about ten years old, the New York Times mumbled a correction.

Another excellent concept is that of Occam’s Razor.’ Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity’

Reduce complicated issues to basic facts and truth, such as it is, will become clearly evident.

If the Statue of Liberty’s raised arm fell off, believe it the right wing would scream that the Russians, and not internal rot, had somehow done the deed.

It is a pity that Infowars Jones is now quiet or we would learn that a Russian submarine was seen in the harbor offloading troops in rubber boats just before the incident.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 25
  • The Donald in Wonderland
  • Donald Trump threatens to impose $200bn import tariffs on China in trade war
  • Trump court pick Kavanaugh issues denial; accuser willing to testify
  • Serial numbers of missile that downed MH17 show it was produced in 1986, owned by Ukraine – Russia
  • Government Can Spy on Journalists in the U.S. Using Invasive Foreign Intelligence Process

 

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 25

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Aug 16, 2017

“Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump was not as explicit here as as in the past, but he was suggesting, as he had repeatedly in the past, that Amazon does not pay sales taxes. This was true before, but Amazon has changed its practices. Amazon now collects sales taxes in all 45 states that have a sales tax, and it supports federal legislation to require the collection of sales taxes on online sales.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

 

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: According to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and CNBC, both groups had already decided to disband, in response to Trump’s controversial response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, before Trump claimed he was making the decision to free them.

 

  • Aug 17, 2017

“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump was referring to a myth, debunked by historians, that the late U.S. general massacred Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood in the Philippines in the early 20th century. Though Trump told this story in detail on the campaign trail, no such event actually occurred.

 

  • Aug 21, 2017

“Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world. ”

Source: Speech on Afghanistan strategy

in fact: The Washington Post researched this claim and found it was an exaggeration. The State Department, the U.S. “gold standard” in terror designations, has designated 13 entities in Afghanistan and Pakistan as terrorist organizations, not 20. Trump appeared to be adding in other entities that other parts of the U.S. government says has provided financial support to terrorist organizations, but these are not terrorist organizations themselves.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

  • Aug 22, 2017

“Economic growth has surged to 2.6 per cent. Remember, everybody said you won’t bring it up to 1 per cent. You won’t bring it up to 1.2 per cent.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Nobody of note was saying Trump would not bring economic growth up to 1 per cent or 1.2 per cent — because it was already higher than that when he took office. The U.S. economy grew by 1.6 per cent in 2016.

 

“We’ve also obtained historic increase in defense spending to prevent and deter conflict.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: This is false in two ways. First, Trump’s proposed increase is far from historic. “In just the past 40 years,” The Associated Press reported, “there have been eight years with larger increases in percentage terms than the one he’s now proposing.” Second, Trump has not “achieved” any increase yet; Congress is still debating military funding levels.

Trump has repeated this claim 10 times

 

“So we have a GDP, it was shocking, about two weeks ago it was announced for the quarter: 2.6 per cent.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: This growth rate was not “shocking” to any expert. As FactCheck.org pointed out, various forecasts earlier in the year — from entities like the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Moody’s Analytics — had projected growth higher than 2.6 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

 

“We have become an energy exporter for the first time ever just recently.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The U.S. is not yet a net exporter of oil and gas. The White House announced in August, citing a government agency, that the U.S. was on track to become a net exporter of natural gas alone by the end of 2017; it was a net exporter in three of the first five months of 2017. Oil, however, is a different story. The same government agency said in January, under the Obama administration, that the U.S. might become a net exporter of energy of all kinds by 2026.

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

 

“We’ve accomplished historic amounts in a short period of time. We’ve signed more than 50 pieces of legislation. They said we’ve signed none — none. We’ve signed 50.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Trump’s accomplishments are far from historic. And nobody is saying he has signed no legislation at all.

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

 

“You ever hear of these liars back there, where they say, but Trump hasn’t gotten — I think we’ve gotten more in a short period of time, in this seven months, I think we’ve gotten more than anybody, including Harry Truman, who was number one, but they will tell you we’ve got none.” And: “I don’t believe that any president — I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months. I really don’t believe it.

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Historians and political scientists say Trump is not even close to the top of the list in terms of accomplishments in a president’s first seven months. Trump had signed just over 50 bills at the time he spoke, most of them minor; Franklin D. Roosevelt signed 76 bills in his first 100 days, or just over three months — many of them major.

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

“We’re reforming the VA to ensure our veterans have the care they so richly deserve, including choice — choice — choice. In other words, if you’ve got to wait for seven days and you’re not feeling well, you go see a doctor and we pay for your doctor. Isn’t that good?”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The VA Choice program currently allows some veterans to see a non-VA doctor if they can’t get a VA appointment in 30 days, not seven days. The program was first implemented under Barack Obama. Trump’s new version has not yet come into force, but even when it does, veterans are unlikely to be allowed to see a private doctor “immediately.” At the Associated Press explained: “Under the newly expanded Choice program that will take at least a year to implement, veterans will still have to meet certain criteria before they can see a private physician. Those criteria will be set in part by proposed federal regulations that will be subject to public review. Currently, only veterans who endure waits of at least 30 days for an appointment at a VA facility are eligible to receive care from private doctors at government expense. A recent Government Accountability Report found that despite the Choice program’s guarantee of providing an appointment within 30 days, veterans waited an average of 51 days to 64 days.”

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

“Obamacare is gone. It’s a disaster. It’s gone.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: We allow Trump rhetorical license to call Obamacare “collapsing” and even “exploding,” though experts say neither is true. But it is plainly false to say the law is “gone.” While its marketplaces have problems, they are still functioning and providing insurance to millions; so is its Medicaid expansion.

Trump has repeated this claim 33 times

 

“What he did to get it, including the guy, Gruber. Did you see Gruber got fired yesterday? He got fired because he defrauded somebody or something. Something very bad happened. Check it out. Something happened.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who was involved in the creation of Obamacare, was not fired the day prior. The news was that Gruber settled a legal case in which the state of Vermont had accused him of fraudulent billing practices related to his consulting work for the state in 2014

 

“When they talk Hillary Clinton spent eight years trying to get — eight years trying to get health-care.” And: “But if you think about it, Clinton, they spent eight years that they weren’t able to get health care.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The Clintons’ failed health-care reform effort lasted less than two years, not all eight years of Bill Clinton’s tenure.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

 

“Nobody’s fixed it — nobody’s been able to do it. And remember, I’m only here for less than eight months, you know. When they talk about Obamacare, it was years.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Obama signed Obamacare one year and two months into his tenure; “years” is clearly an exaggeration.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“And in fact, General Kelly, who was in charge of Homeland Security, where people coming in down 78 and almost 80 per cent. He did so good, I made him my chief of staff, right? That made sense.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Trump and others use the number of apprehensions on the southwestern border as a way to measure illegal immigration. Comparing the five full months of Trump’s tenure — February through June — to the same months in 2016, apprehensions were down 58 per cent, not 78 per cent. There has never been any basis for Trump’s oft-repeated “78 per cent” figure

Trump has repeated this claim 12 times

“I was over at the Yuma Sector. It was hot. It was like 115 degrees. I’m out signing autographs for an hour.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Trump exaggerated both the temperature and the length of time he spent signing autographs near Mexican border in Arizona on the day of his Phoenix rally. “I was on tarmac. It was 107 and 15ish mins,” Bloomberg White House reporter Jennifer Epstein wrote on Twitter. “It was 106, and he spent 20 min with Marines,” wrote Arizona Republic border reporter Rafael Carranza.

 

“How about this? The New York Times essentially apologized after I won the election, because their coverage was so bad, and it was so wrong, and they were losing so many subscribers that they practically apologized. I would say they did. They say, well, it wasn’t really that much of an apology. Because they were losing so many people, because they were misled.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The Times did not apologize for its election coverage. Trump was referring to a post-election letter, a kind of sales pitch, in which Times leaders thanked readers and said they planned to “rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism.” The Times was not losing subscribers at the time; it added more than 50,000 subscribers in the two weeks following voting day.

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

“‘He’s in a Twitter storm again!’ I don’t do Twitter-storms. You know, you’ll put out a little tweet: ‘I’m going to be with the veterans today.’ They’ll say, ‘Donald Trump is in a Twitter storm.’ These are sick people.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: This is a mischaracterization of media coverage of Trump’s tweeting. The phrase “Twitter storm,” or “tweetstorm,” is used when Trump posts multiple tweets in a row, usually when they appear emotional or angry. It is not used to describe a single benign tweet about his plans for the day.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“Then I said, ‘Racism is evil. Do they report that I said that racism is evil? You know why? Because they are very dishonest people.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Contrary to Trump’s strong suggestion, his “racism is evil” remark was widely reported. As CNN noted: “In addition to CNN, the New York Times, Politico, NPR, Time and The Guardian covered it as well.” The Washington Post noted that “racism is evil” was “the headline and chyron for many major national news outlets.”

“Oh, that’s so funny. Look back there, the live red lights. They’re turning those suckers off fast out there. They’re turning those lights off fast. Like CNN. CNN does not want its falling viewership to watch what I’m saying tonight, I can tell you.” And: “Not only does — oh boy, those cameras are going off. Oh, wow. Why don’t you just fold them up and take them home? Oh, those cameras are going off. Wow.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: CNN televised the entire speech, live. No network shut off its cameras in response to Trump’s criticism. Trump has repeatedly uttered this lie at his rallies.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

“And the other thing — very important — I believe wages will start going up, because we now have the lowest unemployment rate we’ve had in 17 years, so you’re going to see wages go up, right? They haven’t gone up for a long time.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Wages have been rising since 2014. As PolitiFact reported: “For much of the time between 2012 and 2014, median weekly earnings were lower than they were in 1979 — a frustrating disappearance of any wage growth for 35 years. But that began changing in 2014. After hitting a low of $330 a week in early 2014, wages have risen to $354 a week by early 2017. That’s an increase of 7.3 percent over a roughly three-year period.” FactCheck.org reported: “For all private workers, average weekly earnings (adjusted for inflation) rose 4% during Obama’s last four years in office.”

Trump has repeated this claim 25 times

“And the other thing — very important — I believe wages will start going up, because we now have the lowest unemployment rate we’ve had in 17 years, so you’re going to see wages go up, right?”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The unemployment rate is the lowest in 16 years, not 17. Trump often uses the correct figure, but he sometimes adds an extra year or two years.

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

“And then you wonder why CNN is doing relatively poorly in the ratings. Because they’re putting like seven people all negative on Trump. And they fired Jeffrey Lord, poor Jeffrey. Jeffrey Lord. I guess he was getting a little fed up, and he was probably fighting back a little bit too hard. They said, we’ve better get (him) out of here; we can’t have that.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Lord, one of CNN’s designated Trump supporters, was fired after he sarcastically tweeted the Nazi phrase “Sieg Heil!” at someone he was calling a fascist. “Nazi salutes are indefensible,” a CNN spokesperson said upon Lord’s termination.

 

“Or CNN, which is so bad and so pathetic, and their ratings are going down.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: CNN’s ratings are up. PolitiFact reported: “CNN is at a five-year high in each of the categories we looked at, according to data provided by the Nielsen Company.”

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“Dishonest people…I hope they’re showing how many people are in this room, but they won’t. They don’t even do that. The only time they show the crowds is when there’s a disrupter or an anarchist in the room.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Various news outlets showed images of the size of the rally crowd, as they regularly do.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

“And you know I mention that, but to the best of my knowledge when there was a big problem, Barack Obama never said it took place because of radical Islamic terrorists, he never said that, right. He doesn’t have to say — you know why? Because they have a double standard. Because the media is totally dishonest, and they have a double standard. You never heard them say that. And in fact, if you use the term you’d get criticized. But with me, they wanted me to say it, and I said it. And I said it very clearly, but they refused to put it on.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: When Trump specifically condemned white supremacists — in his second remarks on the violence in Charlottesville — the media did not “refuse to put it on”; this was the main emphasis of the media coverage of Trump’s speech.

“But they also said that he must be a racist because he never mentioned the driver of the car, who is a terrible person, drove the car and he killed Heather, and it’s a terrible thing. But they said I didn’t mention, so these are my words. ‘The driver of the car is a murderer, and what he did was a horrible, inexcusable thing.’ They said I didn’t mention it.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The media was correct: Trump did not mention, in his first address on Charlottesville, the driver charged with hitting and killing Heather Heyer. He did not denounce the driver in these words until his third statement.

“I’m really doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are…I don’t want to bore you with this, but I — it shows you how dishonest they are. And most of you know this anyway. So here’s what I said, really fast, here’s what I said on Saturday: ‘We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia’ — this is me speaking: ‘We condemn in the strongest, possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.’ That’s me speaking on Saturday.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: In lambasting the media for its coverage of his statement on Charlottesville, Trump misquoted himself — leaving out the three words from his initial statement, “on many sides,” that generated the most criticism. What Trump actually said was, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

“I mean truly dishonest people in the media and the fake media, they make up stories. They have no sources in many cases. They say ‘a source says’ — there is no such thing.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: There is simply no evidence that this is true nor reason to suspect it is true.

Trump has repeated this claim 12 times

“As everybody here remembers, this was the scene of my first rally speech, right?”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: Trump held his second rally speech, not his first, in Phoenix. His first was in Manchester, New Hampshire three weeks prior to that 2015 Phoenix event.

 

“And just so you know from the Secret Service, there aren’t too many people outside protesting, OK. That I can tell you.” And: “(A protester is) supposed to be with the few people outside. How about — how about all week they’re talking about the massive crowds that are going to be outside. Where are they? Well, it’s hot out. It is hot. I think it’s too warm.”

Source: Campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona

in fact: The protests in Phoenix were indeed large, and the protesters were far more visible than Trump suggested. Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said there were “tens of thousands” of protesters present on city streets during the day of Trump’s rally; the Arizona Republic reported that there were “thousands of anti-Trump protesters” outside Trump’s venue during the speech itself.

 

The Donald in Wonderland

Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With President Trump

September 17, 2018

by Nomi Prins

Tom Dispatch

Once upon a time, there was a little-known energy company called Enron. In its 16-year life, it went from being dubbed America’s most innovative company by Fortune Magazine to being the poster child of American corporate deceit. Using a classic recipe for book-cooking, Enron ended up in bankruptcy with jail time for those involved. Its shareholders lost $74 billion in the four years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2001.

A decade ago, the flameout of my former employer, Lehman Brothers, the global financial firm, proved far more devastating, contributing as it did to a series of events that ignited a global financial meltdown. Americans lost an estimated $12.8 trillion in the havoc.

Despite the differing scales of those disasters, there was a common thread: both companies used financial tricks to make themselves appear so much healthier than they actually were. They both faked the numbers, thanks to off-the-books or offshore mechanisms and eluded investigations… until they collapsed.

Now, here’s a question for you as we head for the November midterm elections, sure to be seen as a referendum on the president: Could Donald Trump be a one-man version of either Enron or Lehman Brothers, someone who cooked “the books” until, well, he imploded?

Since we’ve never seen his tax returns, right now we really don’t know. What we do know is that he’s been dodging bullets ever since the Justice Department accused him of violating the Fair Housing Act in his operation of 39 buildings in New York City in 1973. Unlike famed 1920s mob boss Al Capone, he may never get done in by something as simple as tax evasion, but time will tell.

Rest assured of one thing though: he won’t go down easily, even if he is already the subject of multiple investigations and a plethora of legal slings and arrows. Of course, his methods should be familiar. As President Calvin Coolidge so famously put it, “the business of America is business.” And the business of business is to circumvent or avoid the heat… until, of course, it can’t.

The Safe

So far, Treasury Secretary and former Trump national campaign finance chairman Steven Mnuchin has remained out of the legal fray that’s sweeping away some of his fellow campaign associates. Certainly, he and his wife have grandiose tastes. And, yes, his claim that his hedge fund, Dune Capital Management, used offshore tax havens only for his clients, not to help him evade taxes himself, represents a stretch of the imagination. Other than that, however, there seems little else to investigate — for now. Still, as Treasury secretary he does oversee a federal agency that means the world to Donald Trump, the Internal Revenue Service, which just happens to be located across a courtyard from the Trump International Hotel on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue.

As it happens, the IRS in the Trump era still doesn’t have a commissioner, only an acting head. What it may have, National Enquirer-style, is genuine presidential secrets in the form of Donald Trump’s elusive tax returns. Last fall, outgoing IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that there were plans to relocate them to a shiny new safe where they would evidently remain.

In 2016, Trump became the first candidate since President Richard Nixon not to disclose his tax returns. During the campaign, he insisted that those returns were undergoing an IRS audit and that he would not release them until it was completed. (No one at the IRS has ever confirmed that being audited in any way prohibits the release of tax information.) The president’s pledge to do so remains unfulfilled and last year counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway noted that the White House was “not going to release his tax returns,” adding — undoubtedly thinking about his base — “people didn’t care.”

On April 17, 2018, the White House announced that the president would defer even filing his 2017 tax returns until this October. As every president since Nixon has undergone a mandatory audit while in office, count on American taxpayers hearing the same excuse for the rest of his term, even if Congress were to decide to invoke a 1924 IRS provision to view them.

Still, Conway may have a point when it comes to the public. After all, tax dodging is as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July. According to one study, every year the U.S. loses $400 billion in unpaid taxes, much of it hidden in offshore tax havens.

Yet the financial disclosures that The Donald did make during election campaign 2016 indicate that there are more than 500 companies in over two dozen countries, mostly with few to no employees or real offices, that feature him as their “president.” Let’s face it, someone like Trump would only create a business universe of such Wall Street-esque complexity if he wanted to hide something. He was likely trying to evade taxes, shield himself and his family from financial accountability, or hide the dubious health of parts of his business empire. As a colleague of mine at Bear Stearns once put it, when tax-haven companies pile up like dirty laundry, there’s a high likelihood that their uses aren’t completely clean.

Now, let’s consider what we know of Donald Trump’s financial adventures, taxes and all. It’s quite a story and, even though it already feels like forever, it’s only beginning to be told.

The Trump Organization

Atop the non-White House branch of the Trump dynasty is the Trump Organization. To comply with federal conflict-of-interest requirements, The Donald officially turned over that company’s reins to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. For all the obvious reasons, he was supposed to distance himself from his global business while running the country.

Only that didn’t happen and not just because every diplomat and lobbyist in town started to frequent his money-making new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, according to the New York Times, the Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pressing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials because the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid off an adult film actress and a former Playboy model to keep their carnal knowledge to themselves before the election.

Though Cohen effectively gave Stormy Daniels $130,000 and Karen McDougal $150,000 to keep them quiet, the Trump Organization then paid Cohen even more, $420,000, funds it didn’t categorize as a reimbursement for expenses, but as a “retainer.” In its internal paperwork, it then termed that sum as “legal expenses.”

The D.A.’s office is evidently focusing its investigation on how the Trump Organization classified that payment of $420,000, in part for the funds Cohen raised from the equity in his home to calm the Stormy (so to speak). Most people take out home equity loans to build a garage or pay down some debt. Not Cohen. It’s a situation that could become far thornier for Trump. As Cohen already knew, Trump couldn’t possibly wield his pardon power to absolve his former lawyer, since it only applies to those convicted of federal charges, not state ones.

And that’s bad news for the president. As Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, put it, “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

The bigger question is: What else is there? Those two payoffs may, after all, just represent the beginning of the woes facing both the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation, which has been the umbrella outfit for businesses that have incurred charges of lobbying violations (not disclosing payment to a local newspaper to promote favorable casino legislation) and gaming law violations. His organization has also been accused of misleading investors, engaging in currency-transaction-reporting crimes, and improperly accounting for money used to buy betting chips, among a myriad of other transgressions. To speculate on overarching corporate fraud would not exactly be a stretch.

Unlike his casinos, the Trump Organization has not (yet) gone bankrupt, nor — were it to do so — is it in a class with Enron or Lehman Brothers. Yet it does have something in common with both of them: piles of money secreted in places designed to hide its origins, uses, and possibly end-users. The question some authority may pursue someday is: If Donald Trump was willing to be a part of a scheme to hide money paid to former lovers, wouldn’t he do the same for his businesses?

The Trump Foundation

Questions about Trump’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, have abounded since campaign 2016. They prompted New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to file a lawsuit on June 14th against the foundation, also naming its board of directors, including his sons and his daughter Ivanka. It cites “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct… occurring over more than a decade, that includes extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations.”

As the New York Times reported, “The lawsuit accused the charity and members of Mr. Trump’s family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing, and illegal coordination with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.” It also alleged that for four years — 2007, 2012, 2013, and 2014 — Trump himself placed his John Hancock below incorrect statements on the foundation’s tax returns.

The main issue in question: Did the Trump Foundation use any of its funds to benefit The Donald or any of his businesses directly? Underwood thinks so. As she pointed out, it “was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.” Otherwise it seems to have employed no one and, according to the lawsuit, its board of directors has not met since 1999.

Because Trump ran all of his enterprises, he was also personally responsible for signing their tax returns. His charitable foundation was no exception. Were he found to have knowingly provided false information on its tax returns, he could someday face perjury charges.

On August 31st, the foundation’s lawyers fought back, filing papers of their own, calling the lawsuit, as the New York Times put it, “a political attack motivated by the former attorney general’s ‘record of antipathy’ against Mr. Trump.” They were referring to Eric Schneiderman, who had actually resigned the previous May — consider this an irony under the circumstances — after being accused of sexual assault by former girlfriends.

The New York state court system has, in fact, emerged as a vital force in the pushback against the president and his financial shenanigans. As Zephyr Teachout, recent Democratic candidate for New York attorney general, pointed out, it is “one of the most important legal offices in the entire country to both resist and present an alternative to what is happening at the federal level.” And indeed it had begun fulfilling that responsibility with The Donald long before the Mueller investigation was even launched.

In 2013, Schneiderman filed a civil suit against Trump University, calling it a sham institution that engaged in repeated fraudulent behavior. In 2016, Trump finally settled that case in court, agreeing to a $25 million payment to its former students — something that (though we don’t, of course, have the tax returns to confirm this) probably also proved to be a tax write-off for him.

These days, the New York attorney general’s office could essentially create a branch only for matters Trumpian. So far, it has brought more than 100 legal or administrative actions against the president and congressional Republicans since he took office.

Still, don’t sell the foundation short. It did, in the end, find a way to work for the greater good — of Donald Trump. He and his wife, Melania, for instance, used the “charity” to purchase a now infamous six-foot portrait of himself for $20,000 — and true to form, according to the Washington Post, even that purchase could turn out to be a tax violation. Such “self-dealing” is considered illegal. Of course, we’re talking about someone who “used $258,000 from the foundation to pay off legal settlements that involved his for-profit businesses.” That seems like the definition of self-dealing.

The Trump Team

The president swears that he has an uncanny ability to size someone up in a few seconds, based on attitude, confidence, and a handshake — that, in other words, just as there’s the art of the deal, so, too, there’s the art of choosing those who will represent him, stand by him, and take bullets for him, his White House, and his business enterprises. And for a while, he did indeed seem to be a champion when it came to surrounding himself with people who had a special knack for hiding money, tax documents, and secret payoffs from public view.

These days — think of them as the era of attrition for Donald Trump — that landscape looks a lot emptier and less inviting.

On August 21st, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted in Virginia of “five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account.” (On September 14th, he would make a deal with Robert Mueller and plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy.)  On that same August day, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, also pled guilty to eight different federal crimes in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, including — yep — tax evasion.

Three days later, prosecutors in the Cohen investigation granted immunity to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. A loyal employee of the Trump family for more than four decades, he had also served as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation. If anyone other than the president and his children knows the financial and tax secrets of the Trump empire, it’s him. And now, he may be ready to talk. Lurking in his future testimony could be yet another catalyst in a coming Trump tax debacle.

And don’t forget David Pecker, CEO of American Media, the company that publishes the National Enquirer. Pecker bought and buried stories for The Donald for what seems like forever. He, too, now has an immunity deal in the federal investigation of Cohen (and so Trump), evidently in return for providing information on the president’s hush-money deals to bury various exploits that he came to find unpalatable.

The question is this: Did Trump know of Cohen’s hush-money payments? Cohen has certainly indicated that he did and Pecker seems to have told federal prosecutors a similar story. As Cohen said in court of Pecker, “I and the CEO of a media company, at the request of the candidate, worked together” to keep the public in the dark about such payments and Trump’s involvement in them.

The president’s former lawyer faces up to 65 years in prison. That’s enough time to make him consider what other tales he might be able to tell in return for a lighter sentence, including possibly exposing various tax avoidance techniques he and his former client cooked up.

And don’t think that Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg are going to be the last figures to come forward with such stories as the Trump team begins to come unglued.

In the cases of Enron and Lehman Brothers, both companies unraveled after multiple shell games imploded. Enron’s losses were being hidden in multiple offshore entities. In the case of Lehman Brothers, staggeringly over-valued assets were being pledged to borrow yet more money to buy similar assets. In both cases, rigged games were being played in the shadows, while vital information went undisclosed to the public — until it was way too late.

Donald Trump’s equivalent shell games still largely remain to be revealed. They may simply involve hiding money trails to evade taxes or to secretly buy political power and business influence. There is, as yet, no way of knowing. One thing is clear, however: the only way to begin to get answers is to see the president’s tax returns, audited or not. Isn’t it time to open that safe?

 

Donald Trump threatens to impose $200bn import tariffs on China in trade war

US president tweets that countries who don’t make ‘fair’ trade deals with United States will face higher import tariffs

September 17, 2018

by Richard Partington Economics correspondent

The Guardian

Donald Trump has issued China with a renewed threat that he could impose $200bn of import tariffs on Chinese goods arriving in America as part of the escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing.

The US president used a post on Twitter to warn foreign countries they would face higher import tariffs should they fail to agree “fair” trade agreements with the US, in a move likely to be seen as a thinly-veiled threat to China.

He tweeted: “Tariffs have put the US in a very strong bargaining position, with Billions of Dollars, and Jobs, flowing into our Country – and yet cost increases have thus far been almost unnoticeable. If countries will not make fair deals with us, they will be ‘Tariffed!’”

Reports over the weekend suggested White House officials have been put on notice to impose a fresh round of import tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods. More than 1,000 products would be subject to the 10% border tax, which would be designed to make foreign imports more expensive than their domestic equivalents.

Trump is expected to announce the introduction of the tariffs from as early as this week amid a deterioration of relations between the US and China, sources told the Reuters news agency.

Economists argue border tariffs are typically counterproductive because the higher costs are passed onto consumers.

Trump, however, believes the measures are having a positive impact on the US economy, adding in a separate Twitter post: “Our Steel Industry is the talk of the World. It has been given new life, and is thriving. Billions of Dollars is being spent on new plants all around the country!”

Trump slapped a 25% tariff on foreign steel imports earlier this year, with exemptions for some nations.

The president has used the threat of higher border taxes to force nations to renegotiate their trading arrangements with the US, although economists fear the impact could lower both American and global economic growth, while also unsettling business investment.

The US and China have already imposed additional tariffs on $50bn worth of each other’s goods in the intensifying trade standoff, which has rumbled on for months as Trump pledges to help create more manufacturing jobs in America.

He has criticised China for “unfair” trading practices including the theft of American companies’ intellectual property.

Analysts say the president seems keen on the next round of tariffs and the Chinese are rumored to be balking at the next round of talks. Brad Bechtel of the investment bank Jefferies said: “I still think he goes ‘all the way’ [with tariffs on China]. He has bipartisan support and the midterms are looming on the horizon, so he will keep pushing.”

City investors hope Trump’s warnings for China are largely rhetoric designed to appeal to a domestic audience before he faces the midterm election in November. Financial markets have, however, been rattled in recent weeks as the trade conflict intensifies.

Reuters reported that the US treasury department invited senior Chinese officials to more talks designed to break the deadlock last week, although scepticism remains on both sides over the prospects of a breakthrough. China has warned the escalation of the trade conflict is not in the interest of either country.

 

Trump court pick Kavanaugh issues denial; accuser willing to testify

September 16, 2017

by Lawrence Hurley and Steve Holland

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, on Monday called a woman’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago “completely false,” while a lawyer said the accuser is willing to publicly testify before a Senate panel that is scheduled to vote this week on his nomination

In a day of fast-moving developments, all 10 Democratic members of Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the confirmation process sent a letter calling for Thursday’s planned vote to be delayed so the FBI can investigate the allegation.

Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California, has accused Kavanaugh of trying to attack her and remove her clothing in 1982 when they were both high school students in a Maryland suburb outside Washington.

“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said in a statement issued by the White House.

“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” Kavanaugh added.

“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity,” he said in the statement.

Kavanaugh, whose statement was his second denying the allegation but the first since Ford was publicly identified as his accuser, was at the White House on Monday morning, a White House official said.

Ford’s accusation has significantly complicated his nomination, which must be approved first by the Judiciary Committee and then by the full chamber, which is narrowly controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.

The high-stakes confirmation fight comes just weeks before the Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress from Trump’s fellow Republicans. Kavanaugh is Trump’s second nominee for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.

Some committee Republicans have said Ford should have a chance to tell her story, a view also expressed on Monday by White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

In television interviews on Monday, Ford’s Washington-based lawyer, Debra Katz, said her client would be willing to speak out publicly. Asked if that included testimony under oath at a public hearing before senators, Katz told CBS’s “This Morning” program: “She’s willing to do what she needs to do.”

Katz’s comments suggested any public hearing could be explosive. Ford believes Kavanaugh’s alleged actions were “attempted rape” and “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Katz told NBC’s “Today” program.

Katz told CBS that Ford had consumed a beer but was not drunk.

Ford was 15 at the time of the alleged incident and Kavanaugh was 17.

‘DUE DILIGENCE’

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley plans to speak with Kavanaugh and Ford before the committee’s scheduled vote, according to a spokesman for the Republican senator.

The panel’s Democratic members pushed for a delay.

“All Senators, regardless of party, should insist the FBI perform its due diligence and fully investigate the allegations as part of its review of Judge Kavanaugh’s background,” they wrote in a letter to Grassley that was made public by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat.

Republican panel member Jeff Flake has urged the committee to delay its vote until it hears from Ford. Another committee Republican, Lindsey Graham, welcomed hearing from Ford but said it should “be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled.”

Republicans hold a slim 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee and a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Even before the allegation emerged, Kavanaugh’s fate appeared to rest on two moderate Republican women senators who support abortion rights.

One of them, Senator Lisa Murkowski, told CNN late on Sunday that Republicans “might have to consider” discussing a possible delay. The other, Senator Susan Collins, told the New York Times that the allegations are serious and that Ford should be interviewed. But Collins also questioned why Democrats had not raised them earlier.

Ford detailed her story in a letter sent to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in July. The contents of the letter leaked last week and Ford identified herself in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday.

Ford and her lawyers have not responded to Reuters requests for comment.

Conway said sworn testimony from both Kavanaugh and Ford on the specific allegation should be considered as part of the record in the judge’s hearings. “This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” Conway said in an interview with Fox News.

If Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, Trump would get to select a replacement, but that nominee likely would not be confirmed by the Senate before the election. Even if Republicans lose control of the Senate in the midterm election, they likely would be able to vote on a second nominee before the new Congress is seated in January.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Will Dunham

 

 

Serial numbers of missile that downed MH17 show it was produced in 1986, owned by Ukraine – Russia

September 17, 2018

RT

The serial numbers found on debris of the Buk missile which downed Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine show it was produced in 1986, the Russian military said. The projectile was owned by Ukraine, they added.

There are two serial numbers found on fragments of the missile, which shot down the passenger airliner in June 2014 according to an international team of investigators led by the Netherlands. The numbers were marked on the engine and the nozzle of the missile.

The Russian military on Monday said they had traced them to a missile which had the producer serial number 8868720.

Speaking to journalists, Gen. Nikolay Parshin showed a document trail of the Buk missile. According to the documents, some of which have been declassified for the presentation, it was produced at a military plant in Dolgoprudny in the Moscow region in 1986.

The missile was shipped from the plant on December 29, 1986 and delivered to military unit 20152 located in what is now Ukraine. It is now called 223rd anti-aircraft defense regiment of the Ukrainian armed forces, the report said. The unit took part in Kiev’s crackdown on rebels in eastern Ukraine in June 2014, the general said.

The evidence disproves the accusations by Ukraine and some other parties, which claim that a missile fired by a launcher, secretly delivered from Russia, was responsible for the downing of MH17, the Ministry of Defense report said. All the materials have been sent to the Dutch investigators, the Russian military added.

The Russian military also challenges video footage used by the UK-based group Bellingcat, which calls itself a citizen journalism organization, to back its allegations about the delivery of the Buk launcher from Russia. The Defense Ministry showed a video clip with some of the footage, highlighting inconsistencies, which it said proved that the footage had been manipulated to place images of the launcher into background which were not in the original.

The Bellingcat investigation was featured in the latest update by Dutch prosecutors involved in the MH17 investigation, prompting the Russian military to study it in detail, they said. The Russian video showed an example of how an Abrams tank can be shown to be carried by a trailer in the streets of Ukraine in the same way.

The third part of the presentation was what the Russian officials called a record of intercepted communications of Ukrainian officials discussing, in 2016, the risk of flying through restricted airspace over Ukraine. Among a barrage of complaints one phrase says unless the restrictions are respected “we’ll f***ing f**k up another Malaysian Boeing”.

The Russian military say the complaints came from Col. Ruslan Grinchak, who serves in a brigade responsible for radar control of the Ukrainian airspace. His unit tracked the MH17 flight in 2014, so he may have information which is not publicly available about the disaster.

Information on a Col. Ruslan Grinchak shown by the Russian military.

Gen. Igor Konashenkov, who hosted the briefing, said that Ukraine failed to provide radar data from its stations to the Dutch investigators. He also suggested that archive documents from the Ukrainian unit, which received the Buk missile back in 1986, would be of use to the probe, unless Kiev claims that they are no longer available. He stressed rules are in place which mean that such documents should still be stored in Ukraine.

The Russian military said they had no evidence to disprove a scenario, involving the Ukrainian rebels capturing the missile from the Ukrainian army, but pointed out that Ukrainian officials publicly denied anything like this had ever happened.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, falling in the rebel-held part of the country. The crash claimed the lives of 283 passengers and 15 crew members, most of them Dutch nationals. Russia was blamed by Western media in the first days after the tragedy, even before any evidence had been collected on the ground.

The Joint Investigation Team, which is lead by the Netherlands, includes Ukraine, but not Russia. Moscow believes that the investigation is biased, failing to obtain all necessary evidence from Ukraine and relying on questionable sources while ignoring evidence provided by Russia, which doesn’t fit the theory favored by Kiev.

 

Government Can Spy on Journalists in the U.S. Using Invasive Foreign Intelligence Process

September 17, 2018

by Cora Currier

The Intercept

The U.S. government can monitor journalists under a foreign intelligence law that allows invasive spying and operates outside the traditional court system, according to newly released documents.

Targeting members of the press under the law, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, requires approval from the Justice Department’s highest-ranking officials, the documents show.

In two 2015 memos for the FBI, the attorney general spells out “procedures for processing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications targeting known media entities or known members of the media.” The guidelines say the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, or their delegate must sign off before the bureau can bring an application to the secretive panel of judges who approves monitoring under the 1978 act, which governs intelligence-related wiretapping and other surveillance carried out domestically and against U.S. persons abroad.

The high level of supervision points to the controversy around targeting members of the media at all. Prior to the release of these documents, little was known about the use of FISA court orders against journalists. Previous attention had been focused on the use of National Security Letters against members of the press; the letters are administrative orders with which the FBI can obtain certain phone and financial records without a judge’s oversight. FISA court orders can authorize much more invasive searches and collection, including the content of communications, and do so through hearings conducted in secret and outside the sort of adversarial judicial process that allows journalists and other targets of regular criminal warrants to eventually challenge their validity.

“This is a huge surprise,” said Victoria Baranetsky, general counsel with the Center for Investigative Reporting, previously of Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press. “It makes me wonder, what other rules are out there, and how have these rules been applied? The next step is figuring out how this has been used

The documents were turned over by the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy to the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute as part of an ongoing lawsuit seeking the Trump administration’s rules for when and how the government can spy on journalists, including during leak investigations. Freedom of the Press and Knight shared the documents with The Intercept. (First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company, provides funding for both organizations, and multiple Intercept staffers serve on the board of Freedom of the Press Foundation.)

The memos discussing FISA are dated in early 2015, and both are directed at the FBI’s National Security Division. The documents are on the same subject and outline some of the same steps for FISA approvals, but one is unclassified and mostly unredacted, while the other is marked secret and largely redacted. The rules apply to media entities or journalists who are thought to be agents of a foreign government, or, in some cases, are of interest under the broader standard that they possess foreign intelligence information.

Jim Dempsey, a professor at Berkeley Law and a former member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal watchdog, said that the rules were “a recognition that monitoring journalists poses special concerns and requires higher approval. I look on it as a positive, and something that the media should welcome.”

“They apply to known media, not just U.S. media,” he added. “Certainly back in the Cold War era, certain Soviet media entities were in essence arms of the Soviet government, and there may have been reasons to target them in traditional spy-versus-spy context. And it’s possible today that there are circumstances in which a person who works for a media entity is also an agent of a foreign power. Not every country lives by the rules of journalistic integrity that you might want.”

But Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney with the Knight Institute, said that concerns remained. “There’s a lack of clarity on the circumstances when the government might consider a journalist an agent of a foreign power,” said Krishnan. “Think about WikiLeaks; the government has said they are an intelligence operation.” Hannah Bloch-Wehba, a professor at Drexel University, said that “a probable example would be surveillance of reporters who are working for somewhere like RT” — the state-funded Russian television network — “and as a consequence, anyone who is talking to reporters for RT. The reporters are probably conscious they are subject to surveillance, but their sources might not be.”

The guidelines, at least in the unredacted portions, do not say how to handle the information that is gathered or how to mitigate the risk of exposing journalists’ sources and sensitive information unrelated to an investigation (although they would be subject to minimization procedures if they pertained to a U.S. person, Dempsey noted). There is no requirement that the journalist be notified that their records were sought. The unredacted guidelines also do not discuss the scenario in which a journalist themselves might not be the target, but where surveillance is likely to reveal journalists’ communications with a target.

“Journalists merely by being contacted by a FISA target might be subject to monitoring — these guidelines, as far as we can tell, don’t contemplate that situation or add any additional protections,” said Krishnan.

Targeting journalists for surveillance, especially when trying to determine their sources, has historically been limited by First Amendment concerns. In 2015, after it emerged that the Obama administration had secretly seized phone records from the Associated Press and named a Fox News reporter as a co-conspirator in a leak case, Attorney General Eric Holder instituted new guidelines that made the targeting of journalists in criminal cases a “last resort,” and said that the Justice Department ordinarily needed to notify journalists when their records were seized. The guidelines still worried advocates, however, because they left room for the use of National Security Letters. In 2016, The Intercept obtained 2013 guidelines that showed that National Security Letters involving the media required only two extra layers of sign-off. The Justice Department has since said that the FBI does not currently use the letters against journalists for leak investigations, but it’s not clear how often they’ve been used in the past, or in other contexts.

“Journalists merely by being contacted by a FISA target might be subject to monitoring.”

Through an earlier Freedom of Information Act request, the Freedom of the Press Foundation obtained emails referencing a “FISA portion” of FBI guidelines for handling the press, but that glancing mention was the only clue that FISA could be used against journalists.

Many journalists already worried that their calls and emails were likely to be swept up in dragnet acquisition of overseas communications authorized under a controversial provision of FISA, added in 2008, that allows intelligence agencies to acquire large quantities of electronic communications without obtaining individualized warrants for each target. Journalists could become entangled in such collection since many of them likely communicate with people who meet the broad definition of possessing “foreign intelligence” information – which could include information on “foreign affairs.” That concern applied to journalists based in the United States, or U.S. citizens, who might have their end of a conversation picked up “incidentally” under the FISA provision; such incidental collection can then be tapped by domestic law enforcement for use against Americans in so-called “backdoor” searches. But the issue resonated even more with foreign journalists based overseas who could be spied on without triggering constitutional restraints.

The 2015 memos, however, contemplate a scenario where a journalist or media entity is specifically targeted for surveillance under various provisions of the act, either in the U.S. or as a U.S. person abroad. There are no publically reported instances of FISA being used in this way.

In their lawsuit for these documents, filed last November, press freedom groups expressed concern that the Trump administration may have jettisoned or loosened rules for investigating journalists, given the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s regularly-expressed vitriol for the media and avowed interest in tracking down leakers, albeit those who in many cases do not appear to be disclosing classified information or otherwise violating the law. Sessions has brought three prosecutions under the Espionage Act for leaks to the media (two against individuals accused of providing information to The Intercept) and in another leak case seized years of email and phone records from New York Times reporter Ali Watkins. That instance has elevated concerns that the administration is more aggressively going after reporters, even as the Justice Department maintains that the Holder guidelines are still in place.

It is probably easier and quicker for the government to use traditional law enforcement tools, rather than FISA, to go after leakers, said Bloch-Wehba, especially since officials would not want to disclose intelligence methods if a case went to court.

“One concern would be evidence wandering,” she said. “They could learn something about a journalists’ source and then they go back and use ordinary methods to get the same information.”

The Justice Department and the FBI both declined to comment on the guidelines, including about whether they had been revised since 2015, how often FISA applications concerning journalists were made, and whether FISA warrants could be used in leak investigations.

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