Yesterday, 1:40 am by
A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted? The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office. “It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.” Mr. Starr assigned Ronald Rotunda, a prominent conservative professor of constitutional law and ethics whom Mr. Starr hired as a consultant on his legal team, to write the memo in spring 1998 after deputies advised him that they had gathered enough evidence to ask a grand jury to indict Mr. Clinton, the memo shows. President Trump in the Oval Office on Friday. Other prosecutors working for Mr. Starr developed a draft indictment of Mr. Clinton, which The Times has also requested be made public. The National Archives has not processed that file to determine whether it is exempt from disclosure under grand-jury secrecy rules. Document OPEN Document In 1974, the Watergate special counsel, Leon Jaworski, had also received a memo from his staff saying he could indict the president, in that instance Richard M. Nixon, while he was in office, and later made that case in a court brief. Those documents, however, explore the topic significantly less extensively than the Starr office memo. In the end, both Mr. Jaworski and Mr. Starr let congressional impeachment proceedings play out and did not try to indict the presidents while they remained in office. Mr. Starr, who had decided he could indict Mr. Clinton, said in a recent interview that he had concluded the more prudent and appropriate course was simply referring the matter to Congress for potential impeachment. As Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the latest inquiry, investigates the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia and whether President Trump obstructed justice, the newly unearthed Starr office memo raises the possibility that Mr. Mueller may have more options than most commentators have assumed. Here is an explanation of the debate and what the Starr office memo has to say. Why do some argue presidents are immune? Nothing in the Constitution or federal statutes says that sitting presidents are immune from prosecution, and no court has ruled that they have any such shield. But proponents of the theory that Mr. Trump is nevertheless immune for now from indictment cited the Constitution’s “structural principles,” in the words of a memo written in September 1973 by Robert G. Dixon Jr., then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. This argument boils down to practicalities of governance: The stigma of being indicted and the burden of a trial would unduly interfere with a president’s ability to carry out his duties, preventing the executive branch “from accomplishing its constitutional functions” in a way that cannot “be justified by an overriding need,” Mr. Dixon wrote. In October 1973, Mr. Nixon’s solicitor general, Robert H. Bork, submitted a court brief that similarly argued for an “inference” that the Constitution makes sitting presidents immune from indictment and trial. And in 2000, Randolph D. Moss, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel under Mr. Clinton, reviewed the Justice Department’s 1973 opinions and reaffirmed their conclusion. Kenneth W. Starr after testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing for President Bill Clinton in November 1998. Kenneth W. Starr after testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing for President Bill Clinton in November 1998. Credit Joe Marquette/Associated Press What was the Starr office’s stance? In laying out his case, Mr. Rotunda played down arguments that permitting a president to be indicted would cripple the executive branch. Instead, he placed greater emphasis on immunity issues that the Nixon — and, later, Clinton — legal teams dismissed. Among them, he noted that the Constitution’s speech-or-debate clause explicitly grants limited immunity to lawmakers for certain actions. “If the framers of our Constitution wanted to create a special immunity for the president,” he argued, “they could have written the relevant clause.” He also wrote that the 25th Amendment, which allows for temporary replacement of a president who has become unable to carry out the duties of the office, created a mechanism that would keep the executive branch from becoming incapacitated if the president was on trial. And he noted that if indictments had to wait until a president’s term was up, some crimes would become untriable — such as those where the statute of limitations had run out. That could happen for crimes that do not rise to an impeachable offense, he wrote, citing the example of a president who punches an irritating heckler. “No one would suggest that the president should be removed from office simply because of that assault,” he wrote. “Yet the president has no right to assault hecklers. If there is no recourse against the president, if he cannot be prosecuted for violating the criminal laws, he will be above the law.” What has the Supreme Court said? The Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a sitting president can be indicted and tried. But in a landmark 1997 ruling, Clinton v. Jones, it permitted a lawsuit against Mr. Clinton for unofficial actions — accusations of misconduct before he became president — to proceed while he was in office. In his 2000 memo, Mr. Moss dismissed this ruling, emphasizing that the burdens of being a criminal defendant were greater than the burdens of being sued by a private litigant. But in the Starr office memo, Mr. Rotunda deemed the ruling far more significant for the criminal question. “If public policy and the Constitution allow a private litigant to sue a sitting president for acts that are not part of the president’s official duties (and are outside the outer perimeter of those duties), and that is what Clinton v. Jones squarely held,” he wrote, “then one would think that an indictment is constitutional because the public interest in criminal cases is greater.” Could Mueller go where no prosecutor has before? Even if Mr. Mueller were to uncover sufficient evidence to indict Mr. Trump, decide that the legal arguments in the Starr office memo were correct and conclude that he wanted to ask a grand jury for an indictment while Mr. Trump is president — all big ifs — yet another uncertainty would loom: whether he must accept the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis, even if he disagreed with it. The Justice Department’s regulations give Mr. Mueller, as a special counsel, greater autonomy than an ordinary prosecutor, but still say he must follow its “rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies.” They also permit Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to overrule Mr. Mueller if he tries to take a step that Mr. Rosenstein deems contrary to such practices. There is no guiding precedent about whether Office of Legal Counsel memos would fall into that category, or if a special counsel is free to reach his own legal judgments. But as Mr. Mueller’s office investigates, the ambiguity about the rules could influence calculations in the Trump camp about how much to cooperate and how much to fight, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor turned defense lawyer. “I would be surprised if Mueller indicted the president for the same prudential reasons that swayed Starr,” Mr. Mariotti said. “But the specter that he might do that could have an impact on things. If I were on the president’s team, I would say, ‘I don’t think it’s likely that he would, but it’s possible,’ depending on what the facts are.” source

Yesterday, 12:45 am by
Protests spread to more than 100 cities in Poland on Saturday after a bill that would give its populist government the power to push all the nation's Supreme Court judges into retirement passed the upper house of the National Assembly. President Andrzej Duda appears likely to sign the controversial bill into law. He has 21 days to sign or veto the legislation, which would also give the justice minister the power to pick the judges' replacements. Protesters have poured into the streets in cities across Poland to denounce the measure, with many fearing the country's position as a Western democracy is hanging in the balance. "This is the most important decisions (sic) of (Duda's) term; it's one of the most important decisions in the new Poland," said Adam Bodnar, Poland's human rights ombudsman. A poll conducted by CNN affiliate TVN found that 55% of Poles said Duda should veto the court laws; 29% said he should not. Critics of the bill point out the President does have an out, as the bill has glaring errors in its directives. The biggest mistake has one article saying the President elects three judges, while in another article it says the President elects five. Demonstrators came out and chanted "traitors!" and "disgrace!" shortly after the Senate approved the bill -- just before 2 a.m. local time -- following a 16-hour debate, TVN reported. "This is a protest to a great extent about the future," Bodnar said. "They've managed to make such huge protest because they were based on values and ideas and not under a particular party or banner."   Protesters demonstrate Friday outside the Polish Parliament as senators decide on the judiciary bill. Three protests are planned Sunday in Warsaw ahead of what is expected to be a big demonstration Monday evening urging Duda to veto the bill. He is due to meet the high court's chief justice Monday, a Senate statement said. The bill's passage could mark a turning point for the Eastern European country -- one of the first former communist nations to join the European Union. The move by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, known as the PiS, to control one of the last remaining independent government institutions has prompted concern in Washington and triggered warnings from the European Union that it is putting judicial independence at risk. The party insists it is simply carrying out needed judicial reform. Protesters vow to carry on Warsaw resident Marcin Banaszkiewicz has been participating in protests since the proposal came to Parliament. "I remember how my parents protested in 1989," he told CNN on Saturday, proud of the demonstrations. "This is the same moment." Banaszkiewicz, who's not a member of any political party, now waits to see whether the President will sign the measure. "We will continue to meet in protest," he said. "Until it is signed, there is hope." Andrzej Tomasz Celinski said he was marching for the future of his 1-month-old son, Tomasz. Celinski said Saturday he was not surprised the bill passed and that he had little hope it would be vetoed. "Some still hope that President Duda might veto this change in our judicial system," he said. "But in the past he also showed that he is totally obedient to (the ruling party)." But he said he sees a silver lining to the situation -- in an awakened millennial generation that is active in politics and may help vote in a new government in the future. Banaszkiewicz agreed, saying that if Duda signs the bill, the focus needs to be on upcoming elections. However, he and others said they worry that removing the judiciary's independence could compromise free and fair elections.  Poland's Supreme Court determines the lawfulness of elections, and Bodnar, the human rights ombudsman, said "it is quote probable that this changes that."   Protesters hold candles during a demonstration Friday night outside the Polish Parliament. EU: Judicial independence at risk In a sign of the growing concern, a top EU official on Wednesday threatened the use of Article 7 -- a mechanism that would allow for sanctions against Poland and possible suspension of its voting rights in the bloc. The measure has never been used before. "Each individual law, if adopted, would seriously erode the independence of the Polish judiciary," said Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission. "Collectively, they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government." European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister from the opposition Civic Platform party, warned Thursday of "dangerous consequences" for Poland's standing on the world stage and said he had asked Duda for an urgent meeting. "Bringing the courts under the control of the governing party in the manner proposed by the Law and Justice party ... will ruin the already tarnished public opinion about Polish democracy," he said.   Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar addresses a session of the Polish Senate on Friday.   But Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected such concerns. "The judicial reform bill in question will not affect the independence of courts or judges and seeks only to regain the citizens' respect for the judiciary," the ministry said. "Reforms proposed in Poland are in the spirit of judicial systems in other European countries." In a televised address Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo explained her party's effort toward what it says is judicial reform. "We know the courts are performing badly. That's why we are answering the expectations of the Polish people, who want them to perform well and fairly," she said, according to state media. "Today, this is not the case." If Duda does sign the measure into law, it sets up his government to clash with the European Union in Brussels. The bloc is set to reconvene to discuss Poland on July 26. Poland does have an EU ally -- Hungary -- and its support could derail attempts to pressure the country in corral the judiciary measures. "Because of our own national interest, because of Europe's and Poland's interest, we must make clear that the inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed because Hungary will use all legal options" in the European Union to show solidarity with the Poles, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Saturday. 'A political coup d'etat' The measure passed in the Senate early Saturday is one of four aimed at changing the judiciary. Last week, Duda approved the first law, which allows Parliament to appoint 15 of 25 members to the National Council of the Judiciary. The lower house of Parliament passed the latest bill Thursday.   Protesters hold candles and shout slogans as they demonstrate Friday in front of the Polish Parliament. Grzegorz Drobiszewski, president of the Young Democrats Association, a youth group connected with Poland's largest opposition party, accused the PiS on Saturday of "making a political coup d'etat" and attempting to take full control over the judicial system. "This is a clear violation of the principle of a tripartite power," he said. "Legislative, executive and judicial power in one hand is a dictatorship." Wojciech Mosiejczuk, a game designer and filmmaker, posted an image on Twitter of the Senate vote count, describing it as the "penultimate nail" in the coffin of Poland's judicial system.   Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian lawmaker who leads the liberal grouping in the European Parliament, tweeted Saturday that he was confident those opposed to the bill would continue the fight. "Polish citizens know Poland can only be strong & prosperous if democratic and part of the EU. That's why they will never give up," Verhofstadt wrote.   Critics of the bill, and the opposition, admit the judiciary needs reform but disagree about the way in which the PiS has gone about it. "It is a situation (where) you should repair your house, mend windows, paint walls, seal the leaking roof," said Bodnar. "But you should not put explosives under foundations of the house." Visits by Trump, British royals The public outcry over efforts to curtail judiciary independence has flown largely under the radar amid recent high-profile visits to Poland by US President Donald Trump and the British royals. But the US State Department tweeted a warning Friday to Poland "to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate (the) constitution & respects judicial independence."   When asked whether the Trump administration would urge Duda to veto the measure, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: "I am not aware if we will ask him to do that." Nauert said the State Department had passed along Washington's concern that the bill limits the judiciary and potentially weakens the rule of law. Since coming to power, the Law and Justice party has eroded other institutions and freedoms: The right to peaceful assembly has become more restricted, and new media laws have made it more difficult for the press to operate independently. Poland plummeted 29 spots in 2016's World Press Freedom Index, landing at No. 47. In 2017, it dropped to 54. source            

July 22, 2017 by
The weather was hot and humid on July 21, 1977, the day the U.S. government began stockpiling oil. It started small. Just 412,000 barrels of Saudi Arabian light crude stashed in a Southeast Texas salt cavern. In the wake of the Arab oil embargo, which sent prices through the roof and forced Americans to ration gasoline, creating a national reserve seemed like an obvious way to protect U.S. consumers from global supply shocks. Inside The Strategic Petroleum Reserve As U.S. Seeks Oil-Reserve Overhaul To Ease Mandatory Drawdowns “It’s hard to imagine if you weren’t there,’’ said John Herrington, the Energy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, who pushed to expand the reserve in the 1980s. “We were lining up at gas stations. We were turning down our thermostats.’’ Forty years later, the world has changed, and Washington is torn on whether the Strategic Petroleum Reserve has outlived its usefulness. The U.S. is awash in crude, imports are declining, yet the stockpile remains the largest in world, ballooning to nearly 700 million barrels of crude, enough to offset U.S. production for more than two months, stored in some 60 caverns in Texas and Louisiana. In light of these changes, Herrington’s position has shifted. “I don’t see the need for a petroleum reserve now,’’ he said. Shrinking Reserves The government is far from united on the matter. The Energy Department this year kicked off a $2 billion, multiyear effort to upgrade the reserve and improve its ability to distribute oil during an emergency. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, wants to sell part of the reserve, a plan that lawmakers for now have ignored. So the hoard, and the salt caves, remain. The caverns themselves are a marvel. For all the disputation in Washington, the place is eerily quiet. At Bryan Mound, about 60 miles south of Houston, the salty breeze from the Gulf of Mexico rustles through knee-high sea grass. Bryan Mound is the largest of four reserve locations on the coast of Texas and Louisiana, able to hold about 247 million barrels of crude underground. On the surface is a blue sign identifying Cavern 5 and a patch of cement. Two thousand feet (610 meters) below, a sprawling cave begins to open. Originally created by underground sulfur mining, the cavity twists and bloats another 2,000 feet down. Cavern 5 can hold about 37 million barrels of oil, the largest single accumulation of stored oil anywhere in the world. The caverns are more cost-efficient than smaller above-ground storage tanks. When oil is pumped in, the saltwater is pushed out. To empty the oil, workers simply pump the saltwater back in. That’s what’s happening now. The stockpile is shrinking. Congress has, in recent years, ordered the Energy Department to sell 190 million barrels of oil to fill government budget holes, but it hasn’t authorized the agency to replace it. That means that by 2025, the stockpile will be 27 percent smaller. Such a drop in volume could warrant closing some reserve sites, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of the Energy Information Administration. The agency this year completed two of more than a dozen planned sales of reserve oil, auctioning off about 16 million barrels. A January auction brought in an average price of $51.46 a barrel, while a March sale cleared an average of $45.42 a barrel, according to the Energy Department. The drawdowns have brought the current inventory down to 679 million barrels as of July 14. Still Vulnerable Proponents of maintaining the stockpile argue that the U.S. is not immune to price volatility, in spite of rising domestic production and declining imports. “We’re still vulnerable,’’ said Robert McNally, former energy adviser to President George W. Bush and the president of the Bethesda, Maryland-based consulting firm Rapidan Group. “It’s short-sighted and deeply unwise to assume that today’s energy circumstances will be the same over the next few decades.’’ Christopher Smith, who led the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy under President Barack Obama, argues that just the existence of the stockpile has a calming effect on markets. For U.S. refiners, the argument goes, the reserve serves as a kind of insurance policy, promising relief if times get tough. The problem with that argument is that the U.S. has never established a clear policy for when to release oil, leaving it instead to the discretion of the president. ‘Economic Illiterates’ “We ought to dispose of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because we’ve never figured out how to use it in a crisis,’’ said Philip Verleger, an economist who led the Treasury Department’s Office of Energy Policy under President Jimmy Carter and is now the head of an eponymous Carbondale, Colorado-based consulting firm. “The economic illiterates at the Energy Department say it works. But they haven’t used it when they needed to.’’ The stockpile has been used when extreme weather events, like Hurricane Katrina, threatened energy infrastructure on the Gulf Coast. It’s only been used once in response to a global emergency, during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In 2011, the U.S. also released 30 million barrels in response to oil-supply disruption in Libya. One of its more controversial uses came in September 2000, when Democratic President Bill Clinton released 30 million barrels to lower gasoline prices, a move that critics said was a way to influence the November election. “We called that the use of the strategic ‘political’ reserve,’’ said McNally, a Republican. Still, he argues that the reserve remains an important foreign policy tool, especially when dealing with other major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Case in point: As the Trump administration weighs banning crude imports from Venezuela as part of a potential sanctions package, White House advisers are considering whether such a move would warrant a release of oil from the reserve. Venezuela sells about 700,000 barrels a day to Gulf Coast refiners, so an embargo could squeeze refiner margins, and even raise gasoline prices. The oil reserve could give the U.S. some cushion. Herrington, Reagan’s energy secretary, shrugs off the idea. “Venezuela, to me, is small potatoes,” he said. “And the oil from there is not particularly good.” source

July 22, 2017 by
A federal sting reveals lax oversight in the Defense Department’s gear giveaway program. When you think of a federal sting operation involving weaponry and military gear, the Government Accountability Office doesn’t immediately jump to mind. The office is tasked with auditing other federal agencies to root out fraud and abuse, usually by asking questions and poring over paperwork. This year, the agency went a little more cowboy. The GAO created a fictitious law enforcement agency — complete with a fake website and a bogus address that traced back to an empty lot — and applied for military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense. And in less than a week, they got it. A GAO report issued this week says the agency’s faux cops were able to obtain $1.2 million worth of military gear, including night-vision goggles, simulated M-16A2 rifles and pipe bomb equipment from the Defense Department’s 1033 program, which supplies state and local law enforcement with excess materiel. The rifles and bomb equipment could have been made functional with widely available parts, the report said. From left, examples of night-vision goggles, a simulated M-16A2 rifle and a pipe bomb trainer obtained from the Department of Defense by the Government Accountability Office through a fictitious law enforcement agency. “They never did any verification, like visit our ‘location,’ and most of it was by email,” said Zina Merritt, director of the GAO’s defense capabilities and management team, which ran the operation. “It was like getting stuff off of eBay.” In its response to the sting, the Defense Department promised to tighten its verification procedures, including trying to visit the location of law enforcement agencies that apply and making sure agents picking up supplies have valid identification, the GAO report said. The department also promised to do an internal fraud assessment by April 2018. A Defense Department spokesman declined to comment further. The sting operation has its roots in the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. At the time, many were surprised to see law enforcement respond to protests with armored trucks, sniper rifles, tear-gas bombs and other weapons of war. Reporting by The Marshall Project and others found that much of the equipment came from the obscure 1033 program, which dates back to the Clinton era. Any equipment the U.S. military was not using — including Humvees, grenades, scuba-diving gear and even marching-band instruments — was available to local cops who could demonstrate a need. The program has transferred more than $6 billion worth of supplies to more than 8,600 law enforcement agencies since 1991. After Ferguson, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the military from giving away some equipment and deeming other equipment “controlled,” establishing strict oversight and training requirements for law enforcement agencies that wanted it. The order also required a Defense Department and Justice Department working group to ensure oversight. But since President Donald Trump took office, the group has not met, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan thinktank that had been participating in the meetings. Trump has said that he will revoke Obama’s executive order, although he has not yet. Congress ordered the GAO to look into the program last year. A survey of local law enforcement did not turn up any instances of outright abuse at the state level but did find one illegitimate agency that had applied as a federal entity and was approved for equipment, Merritt said. That’s when the agency launched the sting. Contrary to its public image, GAO has snagged other agencies with undercover work in the past, including an investigation of the Affordable Care Act in which the agency submitted fictitious applications and was approved for subsidized healthcare coverage. In this case, the GAO created the fake law enforcement agency — whose name the agency would not reveal — and claimed it did high-level security and counterterrorism work. Once approved, the agency easily obtained the items from a Defense Department warehouse of unused military goods. Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which lists rescinding Obama’s executive order one of its top priorities for the Trump administration, said the possibility of fraud does not indict the whole program. “It suggests only that the U.S. military is one of the world’s largest bureaucracies and as such is going to have some lapses in material control,” Pasco said. “Law enforcement is going to get that equipment and we’re going to use it, to protect both officers and civilians. And if we don’t get it free from the military, we’re going to have to buy it with taxpayer dollars.” But to Madhuri Grewal, senior counsel for the Constitution Project, and other opponents of police militarization, the problem is more fundamental. “There just aren’t many everyday policing uses for military equipment like this,” Grewal said. “The question is why can real law enforcement agencies get some of this stuff, let alone fake ones?” source

July 22, 2017 by
Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election-meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow. The new legislation sharply limits the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions. At a moment when investigations into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials have cast a shadow over his presidency, Mr. Trump could soon face a bleak decision: veto the bill — and fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration abhors. The White House has not publicly spoken about the compromise legislation. But two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the legislation in the current political atmosphere, even if he regards it as interfering with his executive authority to conduct foreign policy. But as ever, Mr. Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to veto a significant bill. Congress has complicated his choice because the compromise legislation also encompasses new sanctions against Iran and North Korea, two countries the administration has been eager to punish for its activities. A sanctions package had stalled in the Republican-led House for weeks after winning near-unanimous support in the Senate last month. Democrats accused Republicans of delaying quick action on the bill at the behest of the Trump administration, which had asked for more flexibility in its relationship with Russia and took up the cause of energy companies, defense contractors and other financial players who suggested that certain provisions could harm American businesses. The House version of the bill includes a small number of changes, technical and substantive, from the Senate legislation, including some made in response to concerns raised by oil and gas companies. But for the most part, the Republican leadership appears to have rejected most of the White House’s objections. The bill aims to punish Russia not only for interference in the election but also for its annexation of Crimea, continuing military activity in eastern Ukraine and human rights abuses. Proponents of the measure seek to impose sanctions on people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others. Paired with the sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the House version of the bill was set for a vote on Tuesday, according to the office of Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the chamber’s majority leader. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, praised a House bill that would impose sweeping sanctions on Russia. On Saturday, the agreement appeared destined for bipartisan, bicameral support. Senator Ben. Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that though he would have preferred full adoption of the Senate version, “I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations.” He said the legislation would “express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said he expected this “strong” bill to reach the president’s desk promptly “on a broad bipartisan basis.” In the House, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip, praised the agreement’s stipulation that “the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions.” But Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, struck a notably different tone. In a statement, she said she was “concerned by changes insisted upon by Republicans” that would empower Republican leadership only to “originate actions in the House to prevent the Trump administration from rolling back sanctions.” She also registered concerns about adding sanctions against North Korea to the package, questioning whether it would prompt delays in the Senate. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Cardin expressed no such concerns. Republican leaders did not immediately release statements on Saturday. The delays in the House became a source of deep frustration among some Russia hawks, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, before he left Washington for medical treatment for a brain tumor. “Pass it, for Christ’s sake,” he said to his House colleagues, as the measure languished last week over technical concerns raised mostly by Republicans. As House Republican leaders like Speaker Paul D. Ryan chafed at the suggestion that they were doing the White House’s bidding by not taking up the measure immediately, the administration sought to pressure members by insisting that the legislation would unduly hamstring the president. Officials argued that Mr. Trump would be effectively handcuffed — deprived of the power to ease or lift the sanctions as he saw fit. The White House pushed to remove language giving Congress the ability to block such actions. source

July 22, 2017 by
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner “inadvertently omitted” more than 70 assets worth at least $10.6 million from his personal financial disclosure reports, according to revised paperwork released Friday. White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens during President Donald Trump’s joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 17, 2017. The previously unreported assets were included in updated disclosure reports certified by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics on Thursday as part of the “ordinary review process,” according to Kushner’s filing. Among the new set of assets Kushner disclosed, which could be worth as much as $51 million, he reported owning an art collection worth between $5 million and $25 million. The new forms also reflect that Kushner sold his interest in an aging shopping mall along the Jersey Shore, and no longer has a stake in a company that had held an interest in apartments in Toledo, Ohio. Kushner also clarified his $5 million to $25 million stake in a holding company that owns Cadre, a real estate tech startup he co-founded with his brother, Joshua, that investors valued at $800 million. Kushner’s wife and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, also filed new federal disclosures. She reported assets of at least $66 million and earned at least $13.5 million in income last year from her various business ventures, including more than $2.4 million from the new Trump hotel near the White House. The filings reflect the extraordinary wealth of Trump and her husband, who jointly made at least $100 million since the beginning of 2016 and hold at least $206 million in combined assets, including some that they report are being sold off. The couple stepped down from running their companies and left behind their lavish Manhattan apartment to move their three small children to Washington earlier this year. The new disclosures come as Kushner faces renewed questions about his vast business holdings and how they may conflict with his role shaping public policy. A lawyer advising Kushner said that federal officials are allowed to amend their initial financial disclosures before they are certified, and stressed that Kushner had complex finances. “Jared and Ivanka have followed each of the required steps in their transition from private citizens to federal officials. The Office of Government Ethics has certified Jared’s financial disclosure, reflecting its determination that his approach complies with federal ethics laws,” said Kushner attorney Jamie Gorelick. “Ivanka’s financial disclosure form is still in the pre-certification stage, as she began the process later.” Clay Johnson, who served as President George W. Bush’s director of presidential personnel, said he was surprised by the sheer number of updates six months in. “The way we ran it … is that the general direction to all nominees is tell us what we ask for now. We will then stand behind you whatever may come in. But there are to be no surprises,” said Johnson, who also served as Bush’s deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. The federal disclosures filed by Ivanka Trump were her first since taking on an official, unpaid role at the White House. The bulk of her assets came from the $50 million value she placed on her business trust, formed to hold a collection of her businesses and corporations. The trust produced between $1 million and $5 million in income. Trump got $2.5 million in salary and severance when she resigned from the Trump Organization in January. She received $787,500 as an advance for her book, “Women Who Work.” In addition, Trump also revealed that she will be receiving recurring annual payments totaling $1.5 million from some of her real estate and consulting interests, according to agreements she worked out in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics. Her filing notes that the fixed payments were necessary to reduce her interest in the performance of the businesses. The documents also show that the young couple resigned from a wide array of corporate positions: Kushner stepped down from 266 such posts, while Trump resigned from 292 positions. The form requires officials to report their income within ranges, which makes it difficult to determine the couple’s exact wealth. A White House spokesman said Kushner sold his interest in the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey, in May. His family company recently received approval from town officials to greatly expand the mall in the face of opposition, and now is embroiled in a related lawsuit filed by four residents. Kushner reported receiving at least $2.1 million in income from the property. He also no longer owns a company holding an interest in several apartment complexes in Toledo, Ohio. Those complexes are part of the Kushner Cos.’ garden apartment business that includes more than 20,000 units in six states. The Toledo apartments are no longer listed on the Kushner Cos. website, suggesting that the company may have sold them off. Representatives of the Kushner Cos. did not immediately respond for comment. source Read More: Report: Ivanka Trump And Jared Kushner Have Raked In $212 Million Since 2016

July 22, 2017 by
Regulators are scrutinizing hundreds of millions in loans and a subpoena from Robert Mueller is expected. Among the many mysteries surrounding Donald Trump’s finances as a real-estate mogul—and the conflicts of interest that might be revealed by his tax returns, were he ever to release them—is his long history of debt. The issue is not merely what Trump owes, but who he owes. As critics noted on the campaign trail, Trump’s habit of reneging on contracts and suing his lenders meant that virtually nobody on Wall Street wanted to work with him, with one exception: Deutsche Bank, which had loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars when no one else would, even after he sued the firm. Now, investigators probing the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia are wondering why—and they’re beginning to take a closer look at the president’s accounts with his favorite bank, which also happens to have strong ties to Russia itself. The president’s favorite financial institution. The New York Times reports that banking regulators are currently “reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit . . . to [see] if the loans might expose the bank to heightened risk.” Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that executives at Deutsche are “expecting that the bank will soon be receiving subpoenas or other requests for information from Robert Mueller,” and that the special counsel’s investigative team and the bank have “already established informal contact in connection to the federal investigation.” There’s certainly plenty to look into. Over the last 20 years, Trump has received more than $4 billion in loan commitments and potential bond offerings from the German lender, despite suing the company in 2008 when he fell behind on payments on the $640 million loan he was given to build Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. Incredibly, in order to avoid paying the $40 million he had personally guaranteed, Trump and his lawyer argued that “Deutsche Bank is one of the banks primarily responsible for the economic dysfunction we are currently facing”—i.e. the global financial crisis—and therefore it should pay him $3 billion in damages under the extraordinary event clause in his contract. Naturally, the bank countersued, calling the real-estate developer’s claim “classic Trump.” In the end, after threatening to take his name off the building if he wasn’t granted more time to pay, the bank gave Trump extra time; when he did pay the money he owed to the firm’s real-estate lending division, it was with another loan he got from Deutsche’s wealth-management unit. Trump subsequently moved his business from the real estate group to the private wealth management group, where, according to the Times, “executives were more willing to deal with him.” One of those executives was Rosemary Vrablic, who has helped finance three Trump properties over the last six years, lending $300 million in the process. That amount is “somewhat unusual by Wall Street standards,” former and current Deutsche Bank executives and wealth managers at other firms on Wall Street told the Times. In addition to Donald, Ivanka Trump is also said to be a Deutsche Bank client, as is Jared Kushner and his mother, who, per the Times, have “an unsecured line of credit from Deutsche Bank, valued at up to $25 million.” In addition, the Kushner family business, Kushner Companies, got a $285 million loan from the bank last year. And because the Kushners and Trumps have never shied away from conflicts of interest, in 2013, Kushner reportedly “ordered up a glowing profile of [Vrablic] in the real estate magazine he owned,” with a disclosure about their connection at the very end of the piece. Apart from the Trumps and Kushners, Deutsche Bank also has deep ties to Russia. In addition to settling allegations earlier this year that it allowed $10 billion to be laundered out of Eastern Europe, Deutsche Bank had a “cooperation agreement” with Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned development bank that is the target of U.S. economic sanctions. Vnesheconombank, for those who need a refresher, was the bank whose chief executive, Sergey Gorkov, Jared Kushner forgot to mention meeting in December. Oh, and there’s also this: . . . in May, federal prosecutors settled a case with a Cyprus investment vehicle owned by a Russian businessman with close family connections to the Kremlin. The firm, Prevezon Holdings, was represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was among the people who met during the presidential campaign with Donald Trump Jr. about Hillary Clinton. Federal prosecutors in the United States claimed Prevezon, which admitted no wrongdoing, laundered the proceeds of an alleged Russian tax fraud through real estate. Prevezon and its partner relied in part on $90 million in financing from a big European financial institution, court records show. It was Deutsche Bank. In an interview with the Times published late Wednesday night, Trump, when asked if he thought Mueller’s investigation would “cross a red line” if it began to examine his “family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia,” said “I would say yes. I think that’s a violation.” source Read More: Democrats Want Deutsche Bank to Spill the Beans on Trump

July 21, 2017 by
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have cut a deal with President Donald Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to avoid a high-profile public hearing next week, with the two men agreeing to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public session. In a joint statement, panel Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein said, "(W)e will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday's hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future." The committee has issued a subpoena for Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the political firm that compiled a dossier at the center of the federal Russia probe. Attorneys for Simpson say he will not accept the committee's invitation to testify Wednesday.   Grassley and Feinstein said in their statement: "Glenn Simpson, through his attorney, has declined to voluntarily attend Wednesday's Judiciary Committee hearing regarding compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Therefore, a subpoena has been issued to compel his attendance. Simpson's attorney has asserted that his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena." The subpoena was served by email Friday afternoon. Also on Friday, the House intelligence committee announced it will interview Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday as part of its probe into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Kushner is being interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday. source

July 21, 2017 by
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday morning, telling President Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Mr. Trump offered Mr. Scaramucci the job at 10 a.m. The president requested that Mr. Spicer stay on, but Mr. Spicer told Mr. Trump that he believed the appointment was a major mistake, according to person with direct knowledge of the exchange. Mr. Spicer’s turbulent tenure as the president’s top spokesman was marked by a combative style with the news media that spawned a caricature of him on “Saturday Night Live.” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, during a briefing last month. His rumored departure has been one of the longest-running internal sagas in an administration brimming with dissension and intrigue. A former Republican National Committee spokesman and strategist, Mr. Spicer was a frequent target of the president’s ire — and correctives — during the first few months of the administration. His resignation of Mr. Spicer was also a blow to the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party chairman who brought Mr. Spicer into the West Wing despite skepticism from Mr. Trump, who initially questioned his loyalty. Mr. Scaramucci was to meet with Mr. Priebus on Friday, according to a West Wing official — and applause could be heard in the second-floor communications hallway when Mr. Scaramucci was introduced. His appointment came two months after the previous communications director, Mike Dubke, stepped down. Mr. Trump was frustrated with Mr. Priebus over the slow pace of finding a replacement, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the situation. Mr. Trump made the appointment over the objection of Mr. Priebus, who thought Mr. Scaramucci lacked the requisite organizational or political experience. But the president believed Mr. Scaramucci, a ferocious defender of Mr. Trump’s on cable television, was best equipped to play the same role in-house, and he offered him a role with far-reaching powers independent of Mr. Priebus’s. When Mr. Spicer flatly rejected the president’s offer of a position subordinate to Mr. Scaramucci, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange. The appointment of Mr. Scaramucci, a favorite of Mr. Trump’s earliest campaign supporters, was backed by the president’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the officials said. source

July 21, 2017 by
President Trump's lawyers are looking into the president's authority to grant pardons in connection with the special counsel investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Trump himself has talked to advisers about his ability to pardon his aides, family members and himself in the investigations, according to the Post, though one adviser cautioned that the president's inquiries were made in curiosity, rather than in connection to the Russia probes. “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,'” the adviser said. Democrats have raised concerns in the past that Trump would pardon anyone who is convicted in the ongoing Russia investigations. Trump's lawyers have reportedly been discussing presidential pardons among themselves, and are also looking at ways to undercut or limit the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. That includes putting together a list of special counsel Robert Mueller's potential conflicts of interest, which could potentially be cited by an attorney general to do away with Mueller.  Trump has voiced much frustration over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, calling it a "witch hunt" and a "cloud" hanging over his presidency. The Washington Post report comes a week after reports that Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. met in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.  Trump Jr., the president and other administration members have come under fire following the reports of the meeting, which has added to speculation that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. source