McCarthy Warns Jan. 6 Committee Republicans Will Investigate Its Work

The New York Times

McCarthy Warns Jan. 6 Committee Republicans Will Investigate Its Work

Luke Broadwater – December 1, 2022

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, on Nov. 19, 2022. (Mikayla Whitmore/The New York Times)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, on Nov. 19, 2022. (Mikayla Whitmore/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is attempting to become the next House speaker, on Wednesday warned the special committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that members of his party planned to launch an inquiry of their own into the panel’s work next year when Republicans assume control of the chamber.

In a letter sent to the committee’s chair, McCarthy instructed the panel to preserve its records — an action already required under House rules — including any recorded transcripts of its more than 1,000 interviews. The missive was the first official indication that newly empowered House Republicans plan not only to end the inquiry at the start of the new Congress, but also to attempt to dismantle and discredit its findings — the latest piece of a broader effort the party has undertaken over the past two years to deny, downplay or shift blame for the deadly attack by a pro-Trump mob.

It comes as McCarthy toils to shore up his position with hard-right Republicans in his conference who have refused to support his bid for speaker, imperiling his chances of being elected in January.

McCarthy pledged in the letter that he would hold public hearings scrutinizing the security breakdowns that occurred during the assault, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, disrupting Congress’s formal count of electoral votes to confirm Joe Biden’s election as president.

“Although your committee’s public hearings did not focus on why the Capitol complex was not secure on Jan. 6, 2021, the Republican majority in the 118th Congress will hold hearings that do so,” McCarthy wrote to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. and chair of the committee.

A spokesperson for the Jan. 6 committee declined to comment on the letter, which was reported earlier by The Federalist.

The committee, which will be dissolved at the end of the current Congress, is finishing up its final batch of witness interviews, including a session on Wednesday with Robin Vos, the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, who said former President Donald Trump has continued to try to pressure lawmakers to overturn the 2020 election — even more than a year after his defeat.

The panel is also completing an extensive report, which is expected to be released in December and is the subject of much internal debate over how much to focus on Trump’s actions versus security failures at the Capitol. Members of the committee’s so-called Blue Team have conducted months of investigation and research into such failures, but it was unclear how much of their work would be featured.

McCarthy highlighted the complaints raised by some current and former staffers in media reports that their work investigating security failures, the financing of the rallies that preceded the attack and the threat of white nationalism would be overshadowed in the report by a focus on Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Lawmakers on the committee have said they are attempting to create a readable report — and had to make difficult choices about what to include, given the voluminous evidence accumulated — but plan to release the full transcripts of their interviews after making some redactions to prevent the identification of witnesses who were granted anonymity.

In addition to interviewing more than 1,000 witnesses, the committee has obtained more than 1 million pages of documents.

Shortly after the attack, both the Senate and the House held multiple hearings investigating security failures, and the Senate produced a bipartisan report detailing those failures.

Republicans, especially those on the hard right, have pressed to focus on the security flaws, which they have baselessly blamed on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rather than on Trump’s role in pushing for the election to be overturned and summoning a large crowd to march on the Capitol, where they attacked and injured more than 150 police officers in a bloody rampage.

In a recent closed-door meeting of Republicans, right-wing lawmakers including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also extracted a promise that their leaders would investigate Pelosi and the Justice Department for their treatment of defendants jailed in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.

McCarthy has long derided the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation. He refused to comply with a subpoena and argued the panel is “illegitimate,” citing Pelosi’s rejection of two of his nominees.

The panel has taken no step to enforce that subpoena, citing congressional traditions.

Oath Keepers’ Rhodes guilty of Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy

Associated Press

Oath Keepers’ Rhodes guilty of Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy

Lindsay Whitehurst, Alanna Durkin Richer and Michael Kunzelman

November 30, 2022

FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, on June 25, 2017. Rhodes was convicted Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, on June 25, 2017. Rhodes was convicted Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Attorneys for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, James Lee Bright, center left, and Edward Tarpley, left, speak to members of the media outside the Federal Courthouse following a verdict in the Rhodes trial in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorneys for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, James Lee Bright, center left, and Edward Tarpley, left, speak to members of the media outside the Federal Courthouse following a verdict in the Rhodes trial in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE - This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he testifies before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on charges of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Nov. 7, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy on Nov. 29. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)
 This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he testifies before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on charges of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Nov. 7, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy on Nov. 29. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)
A federal jury convicted five members of the Oath Keepers on a variety of charges Tuesday in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (AP Graphic)
A federal jury convicted five members of the Oath Keepers on a variety of charges Tuesday in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (AP Graphic)
A man holding a sign that reads "Stop Hating Each Other Because You Disagree" refuses to move from behind The attorneys for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes Edward Tarpley, right, and James Lee Bright, center, as they speak to members of the media outside the Federal Courthouse following a verdict in the Stewart Rhodes trial in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A man holding a sign that reads “Stop Hating Each Other Because You Disagree” refuses to move from behind The attorneys for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes Edward Tarpley, right, and James Lee Bright, center, as they speak to members of the media outside the Federal Courthouse following a verdict in the Stewart Rhodes trial in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn leaves federal court following a verdict in the Rhodes trial in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn leaves federal court following a verdict in the Rhodes trial in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn President Joe Biden’s election, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

A Washington, D.C., jury found Rhodes guilty of sedition after three days of deliberations in the nearly two-month-long trial that showcased the far-right extremist group’s efforts to keep Republican Donald Trump in the White House at all costs.

Rhodes was acquitted of two other conspiracy charges. A co-defendant — Kelly Meggs, who led the antigovernment group’s Florida chapter — was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, while three other associates were cleared of that charge. Jurors found all five defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding: Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.

The verdict, while mixed, marks a significant milestone for the Justice Department and is likely to clear the path for prosecutors to move ahead at full steam in upcoming trials of other extremists accused of sedition.

Rhodes and Meggs are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty at trial of seditious conspiracy — a rarely used Civil War-era charge that can be difficult to prove. The offense calls for up to 20 years behind bars.

It could embolden investigators, whose work has expanded beyond those who attacked the Capitol to focus on others linked to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently named a veteran prosecutor, Jack Smith, to serve as special counsel to oversee key aspects of a probe into efforts to subvert the election as well as a separate investigation into the retention of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

Garland said after the verdict that the Justice Department “is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”

“Democracy depends on the peaceful transfer of power. By attempting to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, the defendants flouted and trampled the rule of law,” Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said in an emailed statement. “This case shows that force and violence are no match for our country’s justice system.”CAPITOL SIEGEJan. 6 panel interviews ex-Secret Service agent Tony OrnatoJury deliberates for 2nd day in Oath Keepers sedition case2 Illinois sisters get probation after Capitol riot pleasMontana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

Using dozens of encrypted messages, recordings and surveillance video, prosecutors made the case that Rhodes began shortly after the 2020 election to prepare an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power.

Over seven weeks of testimony, jurors heard how Rhodes rallied his followers to fight to defend Trump, discussed the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and warned the Oath Keepers may have to “rise up in insurrection” to defeat Biden if Trump didn’t act.

Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of twisting their clients’ words and insisted the Oath Keepers came to Washington only to provide security for figures such as Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally. The defense focused heavily on seeking to show that Rhodes’ rhetoric was just bluster and that the Oath Keepers had no plan before Jan. 6 to attack the Capitol.

Rhodes intends to appeal, defense attorney James Lee Bright told reporters. Another Rhodes lawyer, Ed Tarpley, described the verdict as a “mixed bag,” adding, “This is not a total victory for the government in any way, shape or form.”

“We feel like we presented a case that showed through evidence and testimony that Mr. Rhodes did not commit the crime of seditious conspiracy,” Tarpley said.

On trial alongside Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and Meggs, were Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group.

Caldwell was convicted on two counts and acquitted on three others, including seditious conspiracy. His attorney, David Fischer, called the verdict “major victory” for his client and a “major defeat” for the Justice Department. He also said he would appeal the two convictions.

Jury selection for a second group of Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges is scheduled to begin next week. Several members of the Proud Boys, including the former national chairman Enrique Tarrio, are also scheduled to go to trial on the sedition charge in December.

In an extraordinary move, Rhodes took the stand to tell jurors there was no plan to attack the Capitol and insist that his followers who went inside the building went rogue.

Rhodes testified that he had no idea that his followers were going to join the mob and storm the Capitol and said he was upset after he found out that some did. Rhodes said they were acting “stupid” and outside their mission for the day.

Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers saw an opportunity to advance their plot to stop the transfer of power and sprang into action when the mob started storming the Capitol. The Capitol attack was a “means to an end” for the Oath Keepers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy told jurors in her closing argument.

NATO ups Ukraine aid, says Putin using cold as ‘weapon’

Reuters

NATO ups Ukraine aid, says Putin using cold as ‘weapon’

November 29, 2022

STORY: NATO has pledged to boost its support to Ukraine.

It announced on Tuesday that it would help Kyiv rebuild energy infrastructure that’s been heavily damaged by Russian shelling.

That’s after NATO’s chief said Moscow was using the winter cold as a “weapon of war”.

“Russia is using brutal missile and drone attacks to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter.”

Russia has been carrying out heavy attacks on Ukraine’s power grid almost weekly since October.

Kyiv says it’s a deliberate campaign to harm civilians and calls it a war crime.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly accused Putin of trying “freeze the Ukrainians into submission.”

“I don’t think it’ll be successful. In fact, I know it won’t be successful because they’ve shown a huge amount of resilience and we will continue to support them through these difficult months.”

Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure, but denies deliberately seeking to harm civilians.

Meanwhile, soldiers on the ground in Ukraine say they’re starting to struggle as winter begins to bite.

Heavy rain and falling temperatures are making conditions even grimmer along the frontlines.

“What can I tell you? We’re more or less okay, but it’s a bit harder now because of the rain and a light frost. It’s a swamp. You can see it yourself. It’s dried a bit today… But it’s okay, we’re holding up.”

Some military analysts say they expect Ukraine will try to keep up the pressure on Russian forces over the winter to prevent them from digging in and settling.

Uneasy calm grips Ukraine as West prepares winter aid

Associated Press

Uneasy calm grips Ukraine as West prepares winter aid

Jamey Keaten – November 29, 2022

The Ukrainian flag flatters at half mast near the Ukrainian Motherland monument in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The Ukrainian flag flatters at half mast near the Ukrainian Motherland monument in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)ASSOCIATED PRESS
A rescue worker makes tea for children at the heating tent "Point of Invincibly" in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A rescue worker makes tea for children at the heating tent “Point of Invincibly” in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, right, is greeted by Rishi Sunak's wife Akshata Murty outside 10 Downing Street in London, Monday Nov. 28, 2022, during her visit to the UK. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, right, is greeted by Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty outside 10 Downing Street in London, Monday Nov. 28, 2022, during her visit to the UK. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
A boy kisses a dog while he charges his phone at the heating tent "Point of Invincibly" in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A boy kisses a dog while he charges his phone at the heating tent “Point of Invincibly” in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A woman speaks to his colleague at the heating tent "Point of Invincibly" in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A woman speaks to his colleague at the heating tent “Point of Invincibly” in Bucha, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
People warm themselves and charge their electronic devices in the heating tent "Point of Invincibly" in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
People warm themselves and charge their electronic devices in the heating tent “Point of Invincibly” in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
People stand in front of the heating tent "Point of Invincibly" in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
People stand in front of the heating tent “Point of Invincibly” in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Residents do repair works on a recently damaged building during a Russian strike in the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Shelling by Russian forces struck several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine overnight as utility crews continued a scramble to restore power, water and heating following widespread strikes in recent weeks, officials said Sunday. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Residents do repair works on a recently damaged building during a Russian strike in the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Shelling by Russian forces struck several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine overnight as utility crews continued a scramble to restore power, water and heating following widespread strikes in recent weeks, officials said Sunday. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An uneasy calm hung over Kyiv on Tuesday as residents of the Ukrainian capital did what they could to prepare for anticipated Russian missile attacks aiming to take out more energy infrastructure as winter sets in.

To ease that burden, NATO allies made plans to boost provisions of blankets, generators and other basic necessities to ensure Ukraine’s 43 million people can maintain their resolve in the 10th month of fighting against Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s first lady implored the West to show the same kind of steadfastness that Ukrainians had shown against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign.

“Ukrainians are very tired of this war, but we have no choice in the matter,” Olena Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a BBC interview during a visit to Britain.

“We do hope that the approaching season of Christmas doesn’t make you forget about our tragedy and get used to our suffering,” she said.

A two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, was likely to see the 30-nation alliance make fresh pledges of nonlethal support to Ukraine: fuel, generators, medical supplies and winter equipment, on top of new military support.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to announce substantial U.S. aid for Ukraine’s energy grid, U.S. officials said. Targeted Russian strikes have battered Ukraine’s power infrastructure since early October in what Western officials have described as a Russian attempt campaign to weaponize the coming winter cold.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the outset of the Bucharest meeting that Russia “is willing to use extreme brutality and leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter. So we must stay the course and help Ukraine prevail as a sovereign nation.”

About a third of Ukraine’s residents faced power supply disruptions, Ukraine’s state grid operator said, both because of increased demand due to colder temperatures and the emergency shutdown of power units at several plants since Monday morning.

“The overall deficit in the energy system is a consequence of seven waves of Russian missile attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure,” electricity system operator Ukrenergo said.

Kyiv saw continued interruptions to its electricity, heat and water supply, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Tuesday, leading authorities to “consider the option of partial evacuation of the capital’s residents to the suburbs.”

Blinken reminded everyone it was not the first time that Russia had targeted helpless civilians in this war and insisted only strong support would impact the Kremlin.

Russia’s Black Sea fleet already bombarded Ukrainian cities and towns and bottled up vital grain shipments for the rest of the world in Ukrainian ports. Blinken said the U.S and NATO’s resulting military buildup in the strategic waterway would only intensify.

“We’re not going to be deterred,” he told reporters, in one of his more forceful statements of the day. “We’re going to be reinforcing NATO’s presence from the Black to the Baltic seas.”

Bogdan Aurescu, foreign minister of Romania, another Black Sea nation, said that Romania would be pushing the two-day NATO meeting to up the military presence further still.

The Ukrainian government was putting up defenses too — both for troops and for civilians. The government rolled out hundreds of help stations, christened Points of Invincibility, where residents facing the loss of power, heating and water can warm up, charge their phones, enjoy snacks and hot drinks, and even be entertained.

“I had no electricity for two days. Now there’s only some electricity, and no gas,” said Vanda Bronyslavavina, who took a breather inside one such help center in Kyiv’s Obolon neighborhood.

The 71-year-old lamented the uncertainty about whether Russia will simply resume its strikes after infrastructure gets fixed, a frustrating cycle of destruction and repair that has made wartime life even more uncertain.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said Russian forces overnight fired on seven regions in Ukraine’s south and east, employing missiles, drones and heavy artillery. At least one civilian was killed and two wounded.

Tymoshenko said that as of Tuesday, power had been restored to 24% of residents in the hard-hit southern city of Kherson.

On the battlefields in eastern Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces were continuing a slow advance, pushing toward Russian defense lines set up between two key cities, Gov. Serhiy Haidai said. He acknowledged in televised remarks that the onset of winter was compounding a “difficult” military situation.

The prospect of any peace remained remote. The Kremlin reaffirmed Tuesday that negotiations could only be possible if Ukraine meets Russian demands. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “it’s impossible to hold any talks now because the Ukrainian side strongly rejects them.”

He noted that “political will and readiness to discuss the Russian demands” are needed to conduct negotiations.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other Russian gains. It also has repeated its earlier demands for “demilitarization” and “denazification,” albeit with less vigor than in the past.

Ukraine wants Russia to withdraw from Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and other Ukrainian territory, face prosecution for war crimes and rebuild Ukraine, as well as other demands.

Jill Lawless in London and Lorne Cook in Bucharest contributed to this report.

At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking

The New York Times

At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking

Mike McIntire – November 26, 2022

Kimber Glidden, who resigned as the library director for  Boundary County, Idaho after her library became a cause célèbre for conservatives, in Spokane, Wash. on Oct. 28, 2022. (Rajah Bose/The New York Times)
Kimber Glidden, who resigned as the library director for Boundary County, Idaho after her library became a cause célèbre for conservatives, in Spokane, Wash. on Oct. 28, 2022. (Rajah Bose/The New York Times)

Across the country, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense — increasingly it is a soapbox for elevating one’s voice and, just as often, quieting someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside an elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake. In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations around the United States amounted to nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay-pride event in a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Men with guns interrupted a Juneteenth festival in Franklin, Tennessee, handing out flyers claiming that white people were being replaced. Among the others were rallies in support of gun rights in Delaware and abortion rights in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents happen where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to bear arms in public, a movement bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home. The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger.

But the effects of more guns in public spaces have not been evenly felt. A partisan divide — with Democrats largely eschewing firearms and Republicans embracing them — has warped civic discourse. Deploying the Second Amendment in service of the First Amendment has become a way to buttress a policy argument, a sort of silent, if intimidating, bullhorn.

“It’s disappointing we’ve gotten to that state in our country,” said Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science & History in Memphis, Tennessee, where armed protesters led to the cancellation of an LGBTQ event in September. “What I saw was a group of folks who did not want to engage in any sort of dialogue and just wanted to impose their belief.”

A New York Times analysis of more than 700 armed demonstrations found that at about 77% of them, people openly carrying guns represented right-wing views, such as opposition to LGBTQ rights and abortion access, hostility to racial justice rallies and support for former President Donald Trump’s lie of winning the 2020 election.

The records, from January 2020 to last week, were compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks political violence around the world. The Times also interviewed witnesses to other, smaller-scale incidents not captured by the data, including encounters with armed people at indoor public meetings.

Anti-government militias and right-wing culture warriors such as the Proud Boys attended a majority of the protests, the data showed. Violence broke out at more than 100 events and often involved fisticuffs with opposing groups, including left-wing activists such as antifa.

Republican politicians are generally more tolerant of openly armed supporters than are Democrats, who are more likely to be on the opposing side of people with guns, the records suggest. In July, for example, men wearing sidearms confronted Beto O’Rourke, then the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, at a campaign stop in Whitesboro and warned that he was “not welcome in this town.”

Republican officials or candidates appeared at 32 protests where they were on the same side as those with guns. Democratic politicians were identified at only two protests taking the same view as those armed.

Sometimes, the Republican officials carried weapons: Robert Sutherland, a Washington state representative, wore a pistol on his hip while protesting COVID-19 restrictions in Olympia in 2020. “Governor,” he said, speaking to a crowd, “you send men with guns after us for going fishing. We’ll see what a revolution looks like.”

The occasional appearance of armed civilians at demonstrations or governmental functions is not new. In the 1960s, the Black Panthers displayed guns in public when protesting police brutality. Militia groups, sometimes armed, rallied against federal agents involved in violent standoffs at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and in Waco, Texas, in the 1990s.

But the frequency of these incidents exploded in 2020, with conservative pushback against public health measures to fight the coronavirus and response to the sometimes violent rallies after the murder of George Floyd. Today, in some parts of the country with permissive gun laws, it is not unusual to see people with handguns or military-style rifles at all types of protests.

For instance, at least 14 such incidents have occurred in and around Dallas and Phoenix since May, including outside an FBI field office to condemn the search of Trump’s home and, elsewhere, in support of abortion rights. In New York City and Washington, D.C., where gun laws are strict, there were none — even though numerous demonstrations took place during that same period.

Many conservatives and gun-rights advocates envision virtually no limits. When Democrats in Colorado and Washington state passed laws this year prohibiting firearms at polling places and government meetings, Republicans voted against them. Indeed, those bills were the exception.

Attempts by Democrats to impose limits in other states have mostly failed, and some form of open carry without a permit is now legal in 38 states, a number that is likely to expand as legislation advances in several more. In Michigan, where a Tea Party group recently advertised poll watcher training using a photo of armed men in camouflage, judges have rejected efforts to prohibit guns at voting locations.

Gun-rights advocates assert that banning guns from protests would violate the right to carry firearms for self-defense. Jordan Stein, a spokesperson for Gun Owners of America, pointed to Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager acquitted last year in the shooting of three people during a chaotic demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he had walked the streets with a military-style rifle.

“At a time when protests often devolve into riots, honest people need a means to protect themselves,” he said.

Beyond self-defense, Stein said the freedom of speech and the right to have a gun are “bedrock principles” and that “Americans should be able to bear arms while exercising their First Amendment rights, whether that’s going to church or a peaceful assembly.”

Others argue that openly carrying firearms at public gatherings, particularly when there is no obvious self-defense reason, can have a corrosive effect, leading to curtailed activities, suppressed opinions or public servants who quit out of fear and frustration.

Concerned about armed protesters, local election officials in Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have requested bulletproofing for their offices.

Adam Searing, a lawyer and Georgetown University professor who helps families secure access to health care, said he saw the impact on free speech when people objecting to COVID-19 restrictions used guns to make their point. In some states, disability-rights advocates were afraid to show up to support mask mandates because of armed opposition, said Searing, who teaches public policy at Georgetown University.

“What was really disturbing was the guns became kind of a signifier for political reasons,” he said, adding, “It was just about pure intimidation.”

Armed Speech

The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project has been tracking such incidents in the United States for the past few years. Events captured by the data are not assigned ideological labels but include descriptions and are collected from news sources, social media and independent partners such as the Network Contagion Research Institute, which monitors extremism and disinformation online.

The Times’ analysis found that the largest drivers of armed demonstrations have shifted since 2020. This year, protesters with guns are more likely to be motivated by abortion or LGBTQ issues. Sam Jones, a spokesperson for the nonpartisan data group, said upticks in armed incidents tended to correspond to “different flashpoint events and time periods, like the Roe v. Wade decision and Pride Month.”

In about one-fourth of the cases, left-wing activists also were armed. Many times, it was a response, they said, to right-wing intimidation. Other times, it was not, such as when about 40 demonstrators, some with rifles, blocked city officials in Dallas from clearing a homeless encampment in July.

More than half of all armed protests occurred in 10 states with expansive open-carry laws: Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Three of them — Michigan, Oregon and Texas — allowed armed protesters to gather outside Capitol buildings before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and in Michigan, militia members carrying assault rifles were permitted inside the Capitol during protests against COVID-19 lockdowns.

Beyond the mass gatherings, there are everyday episodes of armed intimidation. Kimber Glidden had been director of the Boundary County Library in Northern Idaho for a couple of months when some parents began raising questions in February about books they believed were inappropriate for children.

It did not matter that the library did not have most of those books — largely dealing with gender, sexuality and race — or that those it did have were not in the children’s section. The issue became a cause célèbre for conservative activists, some of whom began showing up with guns to increasingly tense public meetings, Glidden said.

“How do you stand there and tell me you want to protect children when you’re in the children’s section of the library and you’re armed?” she asked.

In August, she resigned, decrying the “intimidation tactics and threatening behavior.”

A Growing Militancy

At a Second Amendment rally in June 2021 outside the statehouse in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where some people were armed, Republican speakers repeatedly connected the right to carry a gun to other social and cultural issues. U.S. Rep. Scott Perry voiced a frequent conservative complaint about censorship, saying the First Amendment was “under assault.”

“And you know very well what protects the First,” he said. “Which is what we’re doing here today.”

Stephanie Borowicz, a state legislator, was more blunt, boasting to the crowd that “tyrannical governors” had been forced to ease coronavirus restrictions because “as long as we’re an armed population, the government fears us.”

Pennsylvania, like some other states with permissive open-carry laws, is home to right-wing militias that sometimes appear in public with firearms. They are often welcomed, or at least accepted, by Republican politicians.

When a dozen militia members, some wearing skull masks and body armor, joined a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Pittsburgh in April 2020, Jeff Neff, a Republican borough council president running for the state senate, posed for a photo with the group. In it, he is holding his campaign sign, surrounded by men with military-style rifles.

In an email, Neff said he had since left politics, and expressed regret over past news coverage of the photo, adding, “Please know that I do not condone any threats or action of violence by any person or groups.”

Across the country, there is evidence of increasing Republican involvement in militias. A membership list for the Oath Keepers, made public last year, includes 81 elected officials or candidates, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League. Most of them appear to be Republicans.

Another nationwide militia, the American Patriots Three Percent, recently told prospective members that it worked to support “individuals seeking election to local GOP boards,” according to an archived version of its website.

More than 25 members of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have been charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those organizations, along with the Proud Boys and Boogaloo Boys, make up the bulk of organized groups in the armed-protest data, according to the Times’ analysis.

Shootings were rare, such as when a Proud Boy was shot in the foot while chasing antifa members during a protest over COVID-19 lockdowns in Olympia last year. But Jones said the data, which also tracked unarmed demonstrations, showed that although armed protests accounted for less than 2% of the total, they were responsible for 10% of those where violence occurred, most often involving fights between rival groups.

“Armed groups or individuals might say they have no intention of intimidating anyone and are only participating in demonstrations to keep the peace,” said Jones, “but the evidence doesn’t back up the claim.”

Competing Rights

In a landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment conveyed a basic right to bear arms for lawful purposes such as self-defense at home. It went further in a decision in June that struck down New York restrictions on concealed-pistol permits, effectively finding a right to carry firearms in public.

But the court in Heller also made clear that gun rights were not unlimited and that its ruling did not invalidate laws prohibiting “the carrying of firearms in sensitive places.” That caveat was reiterated in a concurring opinion in the New York case.

Even some hard-line gun-rights advocates are uncomfortable with armed people at public protests. Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, told The Washington Times in 2017 that “if you are carrying it to make a political point, we are not going to support that.”

“Firearms serve a purpose,” he said, “and the purpose is not a mouthpiece.”

But groups that embrace Second Amendment absolutism do not hesitate to criticize fellow advocates who stray from that orthodoxy.

After Dan Crenshaw, a Republican congressman from Texas and former Navy SEAL, lamented in 2020 that “guys dressing up in their Call of Duty outfits, marching through the streets” were not advancing the cause of gun rights, he was knocked by the Firearms Policy Coalition for “being critical of people exercising their right to protest.” The coalition has fought state laws that it says force gun owners to choose between the rights to free speech and self-defense.

Regardless of whether there is a right to go armed in public for self-defense, early laws and court decisions made clear that the Constitution did not empower people, such as modern-day militia members, to gather with guns as a form of protest, said Michael Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University who has written about the tension between the rights to free speech and guns.

Dorf pointed to an 18th-century Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that a group of protesters with firearms had no right to rally in public against a government tax. Some states also adopted an old English law prohibiting “going armed to the terror of the people,” still on the books in some places, aimed at preventing the use of weapons to threaten or intimidate.

“Historically,” said Dorf, “there were such limits on armed gatherings, even assuming that there’s some right to be armed as individuals.”

There is no evidence that the framers of the Constitution intended for Americans to take up arms during civic debate among themselves — or to intimidate those with differing opinions. That is what happened at the Memphis museum in September, when people with guns showed up to protest a scheduled dance party that capped a summerlong series on the history of the LGBTQ community in the South.

Although the party was billed as “family friendly,” conservatives on local talk radio claimed that children would be at risk. (The museum said the planned activities were acceptable for all ages.) As armed men wearing masks milled about outside, the panicked staff canceled all programs and evacuated the premises.

Thompson, the director, said he and his board were now grappling with the laws on carrying firearms, which were loosened last year by state legislators.

“It’s a different time,” he said, “and it’s something we have to learn to navigate.”

Krull: House Republicans plan to investigate things that don’t matter to most Americans

The Herald Times

Krull: House Republicans plan to investigate things that don’t matter to most Americans

John Krull – November 24, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Some people are slow learners.

And some people never learn at all.

The members of the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives belong to one of those two groups. The next two years will tell us which one.

Fresh from a midterm election that fell far, far, far short of both Republican expectations and historic norms for parties out of power, the House GOP firebreathers announced their priorities for the coming legislative session, one in which they will have one of the slimmest majorities in American history.

Most sensible politicians would use a moment such as this to lay a foundation for future growth. They would outline an agenda featuring plans and programs designed to sway independent or undecided voters. They would use their platform to persuade.

But that’s not the way the deep thinkers in the House Republican caucus approach things. Their agenda is simple.

They plan a series of investigations — and every one of those investigations will be designed to appeal to the narrowing base of supporters that already supports the GOP.

The Republicans say they will investigate President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, even though there already are several criminal investigations into the younger Biden’s conduct, and he likely will be indicted soon.

They plan to investigate the U.S.-Mexico border “crisis.” Maybe that investigation will determine why Republicans made top-heavy tax cuts for billionaires their legislative priority rather than border security from 2017 to 2019, when they controlled the presidency, both chambers of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

The Javerts in the House also intend to dive into the U.S. withdrawal from the Afghanistan War, the cause of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Of these, only the study of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle doesn’t seem exclusively partisan in nature.

It’s doubtful, though, that House Republicans will ask the essential question about that costly episode, which is: Once the United States has plunged into a long-term military conflict without an exit strategy in mind, how should we go about extricating ourselves?

The other investigations are nothing more than attempts to throw chunks of red meat to the most rabid and snarling parts of the Republican base. The House GOP brain trust seems to think this is a winning political strategy. They’re wrong about that — for at least two reasons.

The first is none of these investigations connects in any way to the lives of average Americans.

The strongest message Republicans had in the 2022 election focused on the economy and the unease many — perhaps even most — Americans feel regarding galloping inflation.

Voters in the suburbs — once a Republican bastion but now the battlefield in which elections for at least the next decade will be decided — worry the good lives they’ve built for themselves and their families will slip away, one price increase at a time.

Inflationary pressures on the world economy aren’t likely to go away any time soon, so House Republicans could spend their political capital fashioning programs designed to alleviate those concerns. They could create a system of targeted tax cuts aimed at helping the middle class offset costs in other areas.

But no.

The Republicans are going to focus on wooing the voters already with them.

They might as well send every embattled suburban GOP candidate out to campaign wearing a sign reading: “Please send me back to make noise and spend your tax money while accomplishing nothing.”

The second reason the GOP strategy is wrong is that it’s based on a mistaken premise.

Republicans believe the Benghazi investigation fatally wounded 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The problem with that thinking is Clinton was damaged goods long before the investigation started. For nearly 20 years, she had carried historically high negatives. Polls showed that four out of 10 voters wouldn’t cast a ballot for her under any circumstances, which meant she had to persuade five out of the remaining six to support her.

That’s a tall order.

Joe Biden never has aroused the levels of animosity both Clintons did and do and, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee again, Biden likely won’t do anything more than say: “Vote for me because I’m not him.”

Republicans have been down this road before.

Pity they didn’t learn anything along the way.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College.

Bill Barr says Trump will ‘burn the whole house down’ and destroy the GOP if he doesn’t win the 2024 nomination

Insider

Bill Barr says Trump will ‘burn the whole house down’ and destroy the GOP if he doesn’t win the 2024 nomination

Tom Porter – November 23, 2022

Bill Barr and Donald Trump
Former Attorney General Bill Barr and former President Donald TrumpDrew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Former Attorney General Bill Barr discussed Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign in an op-ed.
  • He said Trump’s “narcissism” means he would be unable to accept losing the GOP nomination race.
  • Barr is a former Trump loyalist, who has recently turned against his ex-boss.

Former Attorney Bill Barr said that Donald Trump would seek to destroy the Republican Party if defeated in his bid to become its 2024 presidential nominee.

In an op-ed in The New York Post published on Tuesday, Barr addressed Trump’s announcement last week that he was seeking the Republican Party candidacy for the White House in 2024.

He said that if Trump loses the nomination, it could tear the GOP apart.

“Unless the rest of the party goes along with him, he will burn the whole house down by leading ‘his people’ out of the GOP,” Barr said, referring to the former president’s hardline supporters in the party.

“Trump’s willingness to destroy the party if he does not get his way is not based on principle, but on his own supreme narcissism,” Barr wrote.

“His egoism makes him unable to think of a political party as anything but an extension of himself — a cult of personality.”

Trump’s status as the GOP’s most powerful figure has taken a hit in the wake of the midterm elections, when several of the high profile candidates he’d endorsed in key races were defeated. 

Barr is among Republicans claiming the the divisive and flawed candidates Trump endorsed are the reason for the party’s failure to win control of the Senate, and to only secure a small House majority.

“The GOP’s poor performance in the recent midterms was due largely to Trump’s mischief,” said Barr, citing his candidate choice, failure to provide proper funding, and stoking of internal GOP divisions.

His criticisms is strikingly similar to that of Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, who also believes that the former president would seek to “burn everything down” if Republicans blame their midterms defeat on him.

Trump announced his candidacy at a relatively muted event at Mar-a-Lago last week amid mounting criticism of his midterm strategy. Meanwhile, momentum is building behind his rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Barr was seen as among the most loyal members of Trump’s cabinet. But more recently has been highly critical of Trump over his refusal to concede defeat after the 2020 election, and his retention of stashes of classified information after leaving office.

Barr in the op-ed said it was time for new leadership in the Republican Party.

“It is painfully clear from his track record in both the 2020 election and the 2022 midterms that Donald Trump is neither capable of forging this winning coalition nor delivering the decisive and durable victory required,” Barr said.

“Indeed, among the current crop of potential nominees, Trump is the person least able to unite the party and the one most likely to lose the general election,” he added.

Ukrainians work to restore power to nuclear plants as country freezes

Reuters

Ukrainians work to restore power to nuclear plants as country freezes

Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth – November 23, 2022

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine restored power on Thursday to two of its four nuclear power plants but much of the country remained consigned to freezing darkness by the most devastating Russian air strikes on its energy infrastructure so far.

Viewed from space, Ukraine has become a dark patch on the globe at night, satellite images released by NASA showed, following repeated barrages of Russian missiles in recent weeks.

With temperatures falling below zero, authorities were working to get the lights and heat back on. Russia’s latest missile barrage killed 10 people and shut down all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years.

Regional authorities in Kyiv said power had been restored to three quarters of the capital by Thursday morning and water was working again in some areas. Transport was back up and running in the city, with buses replacing electric trams.

Authorities hoped to restart the three nuclear power plants in Ukrainian-held territory by the end of the day. By early evening, officials said a reactor at one of them, the Khmelnytskyi nuclear plant, had been reconnected to the grid.

The vast Zaporizhzhia plant in Russian-held territory also had to activate backup diesel power but it too was reconnected on Thursday, Ukrainian nuclear power company Energoatom said.

Since early October, Russia has attacked energy targets across Ukraine about once a week, each time firing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missiles to knock out Ukraine’s power grid.

Moscow acknowledges attacking basic infrastructure, saying its aim is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate. Kyiv says such attacks are clearly intended to harm civilians, making them a war crime.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was Kyiv’s fault Ukrainians were suffering because it refused to yield to Moscow’s demands, which he did not spell out. Ukraine says it will only stop fighting when all Russian forces have left.

“What is there to talk about? I think that the first step should come from them. For starters, they have to stop shelling us,” said 27-year-old Olena Shafinska, queuing at a water pump in a park in central Kyiv with a group of friends.

Nuclear officials say interruptions in power can disrupt cooling systems and cause an atomic disaster.

“There is a real danger of a nuclear and radiation catastrophe being caused by firing on the entire territory of Ukraine with Russian cruise and ballistic missiles,” Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said.

“Russia must answer for this shameful crime.”

WEAPONISING WINTER

Winter has arrived abruptly in Ukraine and temperatures were well below freezing in the capital, a city of three million. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “clearly weaponising winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people”.

The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission,” she added.

There was no prospect of action from the Security Council, where Russia wields a veto. Moscow’s U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, said it was against council rules for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to appear via video as he did on Wednesday, and rejected what he called “reckless threats and ultimatums” by Ukraine and its supporters in the West.

He blamed damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure on its air defence missiles and said the West should stop supplying them.

Ukrainian authorities said three apartment blocks were hit on Wednesday, killing ten people.

“Our little one was sleeping. Two years old. She was sleeping, she got covered. She is alive, thanks be to God,” said a man who gave his name as Fyodr, dragging a suitcase as he walked away from a smouldering apartment building hit in Kyiv.

Also in the capital, performers and staff members of the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theater tearfully bid farewell to 26-year-old ballet dancer Vadym Khlupianets who was killed fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has shifted to the tactic of striking Ukraine’s infrastructure even as Kyiv has inflicted battlefield defeats on Russian forces since September. Russia has also declared the annexation of land it occupies and called up hundreds of thousands of reservists.

The war’s first winter will now test whether Ukraine can press on with its campaign to recapture territory, or whether Russia’s commanders can keep their invasion forces supplied and find a way to halt Kyiv’s momentum.

Having retreated, Russia has a far shorter line to defend to hold on to seized lands, with more than a third of the front now blocked off by the Dnipro River.

“Ukraine will slowly grow in capabilities, but a continued maneuver east of the Dnipro River and into Russian-occupied Donbas will prove to be much tougher fights,” tweeted Mark Hertling, a former commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe.

“Ukrainian morale will be tested with continued Russian attacks against civilian infrastructure … but Ukraine will persevere.”

Russia has been pressing an offensive of its own along the front line west of the city of Donetsk, held by Moscow’s proxies since 2014. Ukraine said Russian forces tried again to advance on their main targets, Bakhmut and Avdiivka, with only limited success.

Further south, Russian forces were digging in on the eastern bank of the Dnipro, shelling areas across it including the city of Kherson, recaptured by Ukrainian forces this month.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.

Moscow says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to protect Russian speakers in what Putin calls an artificial state carved from Russia. Ukraine and the West call the invasion an unprovoked war of aggression.

(Additional reporting by Stefaniia Bern and Reuters bureauxWriting by Peter Graff, Alexandra Hudson, Philippa Fletcher, Editing by William Maclean)

Accountant testifies Trump claimed decade of huge tax losses

Associated Press

Accountant testifies Trump claimed decade of huge tax losses

Michael R. Sisak – November 22, 2022

Donald Bender, left, a former accountant for Donald Trump, arrives at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in New York. Prosecutors in the Trump Organization's criminal tax fraud trial rested their case Monday earlier than expected, pinning hopes for convicting Donald Trump's company largely on the word of two top executives who cut deals before testifying they schemed to avoid taxes on company-paid perks. (AP Photo/Michael Sisak)
Donald Bender, left, a former accountant for Donald Trump, arrives at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in New York. Prosecutors in the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial rested their case Monday earlier than expected, pinning hopes for convicting Donald Trump’s company largely on the word of two top executives who cut deals before testifying they schemed to avoid taxes on company-paid perks. (AP Photo/Michael Sisak)
FILE - Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. The Supreme Court has cleared the way for the handover of former President Donald Trump's tax returns to a congressional committee after a three-year legal fight. The Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee had asked for six years of tax returns for Trump and some of his businesses, from 2015 to 2020. The court's order Tuesday, Nov. 22 leaves no legal obstacle in the way. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
 Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. The Supreme Court has cleared the way for the handover of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to a congressional committee after a three-year legal fight. The Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee had asked for six years of tax returns for Trump and some of his businesses, from 2015 to 2020. The court’s order Tuesday, Nov. 22 leaves no legal obstacle in the way. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Trump Legal Troubles

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump reported losses on his tax returns every year for a decade, including nearly $700 million in 2009 and $200 million in 2010, his longtime accountant testified Tuesday, confirming long-held suspicions about the former president’s tax practices.

Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars USA LLP who spent years preparing Trump’s personal tax returns, said Trump’s reported losses from 2009 to 2018 included net operating losses from some of the many businesses he owns through his Trump Organization.

“There are losses for all these years,” said Bender, who was granted immunity to testify at the company’s criminal tax fraud trial in Manhattan.

The short exchange amounted to a rare public discussion of Trump’s taxes — which the Republican has fought to keep secret — even if there was no obvious connection to the case at hand.

A prosecutor, Susan Hoffinger, questioned Bender briefly about Trump’s taxes on cross examination, at one point showing him copies of Trump tax paperwork that the Manhattan district attorney’s office fought for three years to obtain, before moving on to other topics.

The Trump Organization, the holding company for Trump’s buildings, golf courses and other assets, is charged with helping some top executives avoid income taxes on compensation they got in addition to their salaries, including rent-free apartments and luxury cars. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.

Trump is not charged in the case and is not expected to testify or attend the trial. The company’s former finance chief testified that he came up with the scheme on his own, without Trump or the Trump family knowing. Allen Weisselberg, testifying as part of a plea deal, said the company also benefited because it didn’t have to pay him as much in salary.

Bender’s testimony came on a day full of Trump-related legal drama, including the U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way for Congress to get six years worth of tax returns for Trump and some of his businesses.

Also Tuesday, the judge in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud lawsuit against Trump and his company set an October 2023 trial date; a federal appeals court heard arguments in the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago documents investigation; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, testified before a Georgia grand jury probing alleged 2020 election interference.

Bender’s tax loss testimony echoed what The New York Times reported in 2020, when it obtained a trove of Trump’s tax returns. Many of the records reflected massive losses and little or no taxes paid, the newspaper reported at the time.

The Times reported Trump paid no income tax in 11 of the 18 years whose records it reviewed, and that he paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2017, the year he became president. Citing other Trump tax records, The Times previously reported that in 1995 he claimed $915.7 million in losses, which he could have used to avoid future taxes under the law at the time.

Manhattan prosecutors subpoenaed Bender’s firm in 2019, seeking access to eight years of Trump’s tax returns and related documents, finally getting them after a protracted legal fight that included two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bender handled tax returns and other financial matters for Trump, the Trump Organization and hundreds of Trump entities starting in the 1980s. He also prepared taxes for members of Trump’s family and other company executives, including Weisselberg and Weisselberg’s son, who managed a company-run ice rink in Central Park.

Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to dodging taxes on $1.7 million in extras in exchange for a five-month jail sentence, testified that he hid company-paid extras such as Manhattan apartments and Mercedes-Benz cars from his taxable income by having the company’s comptroller, Jeffrey McConney, reduce his salary by the cost of those perks.

Bender testified that Weisselberg kept him the dark on that arrangement — and that he only found out about it from prosecutors last year.

But emails shown in court Tuesday suggested that McConney tried to loop him in as early as 2013, with attached spreadsheets listing Weisselberg’s pay and reductions for extras, including Trump-paid tuition for his grandchildren’s private schooling.

Bender, who testified that he got numerous emails from Trump executives daily, said he didn’t recall seeing those messages. If he had, he said: “We would have had a serious conversation about continuing with the client.”

Mazars USA LLP has since dropped Trump as a client. In February, the firm said annual financial statements it prepared for him “should no longer be relied upon” after James’ office said the statements regularly misstated the value of assets — an allegation at the heart of her lawsuit.

Trump blamed Bender and Mazars for the company’s troubles, writing on his Truth Social platform last week: “The highly paid accounting firm should have routinely picked these things up – we relied on them. VERY UNFAIR!”

Bender testified that he put the onus on Weisselberg to fix any problems as scrutiny of the Trump Organization intensified after Trump’s election in 2016 and advised him to stop one dubious practice: the company’s longstanding, tax-saving habit of paying executive bonuses as freelance income.

The accountant said he told Weisselberg: “If there is anything bothering you, even if there’s the slightest chance, we have to set the highest standards so the company should be, effectively, squeaky clean.”

Trump Family’s Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments

The New York Times

Trump Family’s Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments

Eric Lipton and Maggie Haberman – November 21, 2022

Former President Donald Trump during his election night party at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. on Nov. 8, 2022. (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times)
Former President Donald Trump during his election night party at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. on Nov. 8, 2022. (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — When former President Donald Trump returned briefly last week to his office at Trump Tower in New York, he was joined by his son Eric Trump and the top executive of a Saudi Arabian real estate company to sign a deal that creates new conflict-of-interest questions for his just-launched presidential campaign.

The deal is with a Saudi real estate company that intends to build a Trump-branded hotel, villas and a golf course as part of a $4 billion real estate project in Oman. The agreement continues a practice that had been popular for the Trump family business until Trump was elected president — selling branding rights to an overseas project in exchange for a generous licensing fee.

But what makes this project unusual — and is sure to intensify the questions over this newest transaction — is that by teaming up with the Saudi company, Trump is also becoming part of a project backed by the government of Oman itself.

The deal leaves Trump, as a former president hoping to win the White House again, effectively with a foreign government partner that has complex relations with the United States, including its role in trying to end the war in Yemen and other important foreign policy agenda items for Washington.

The deal Trump signed was with Dar Al Arkan, the Saudi-based real estate company that is leading the project in collaboration with the government of Oman, which owns the land. It is the second deal signed recently between Trump and his family that has direct financial ties to a Middle East government.

The Trump Organization also hosted the Saudi-government-backed LIV Golf tournaments at family-owned golf clubs in New Jersey and Florida. The Saudi government’s $620 billion Public Investment Fund has financed the LIV Golf effort, which then paid venues like Trump National Doral in Miami and Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey to host two of its tournaments this year.

The Trump administration, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, had close ties with Saudi Arabia during Trump’s tenure in the White House. Kushner has also received financial support from the Saudi government, a $2 billion investment in his newly formed private equity firm, Affinity Partners.

Before being elected president, Trump and his family had signed deals to license the Trump name in locations including Indonesia, Turkey, the Philippines, Dubai, India, Panama and Canada, and it owns golf resorts in Scotland and Ireland. One planned skyscraper deal in Dubai, announced in 2005, involved Nakheel, a Dubai-government-controlled real estate company. But that project was eventually abandoned.

Eight months before Trump entered the presidential race in 2015, the family company announced plans to license its name for a 33-story hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, and the partner there was the son of a government minister. That project was also ultimately abandoned.

Elsewhere, the Trump Organization’s foreign deals generally did not directly involve a financial role by a foreign government, or at least any public acknowledgment of direct foreign government financing or a major land contribution, according to an examination of the transactions by The New York Times.

During Trump’s time in the White House, Trump International Hotel in Washington was frequently a destination for foreign government officials, including delegations in town for planned meetings with Trump. The governments of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China each spent money at the hotel, according to documents that his former accounting firm turned over to Congress. The hotel received more than $3.75 million from foreign governments from 2017 to 2020, the House investigators estimated.

The Trump Organization has asserted that it paid all profits from these hotel stays to the Treasury Department through annual voluntary payments.

But this new deal — in which the Trump Organization benefits from land or financial capital provided by foreign governments — only elevates the potential for a conflict of interest to emerge, as Trump continues his dual roles as a White House candidate and business executive, ethics lawyers said.

“This is yet another example of Trump getting a personal financial benefit in exchange for past or future political power,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “The Saudis and Oman government may believe that giving Trump this licensing deal will benefit them in the future, should Trump become president again. This deal could be a way to ensure that they will be in Trump’s good graces.”

The Aida project in Oman is slated to be built 20 minutes outside the capital city of Muscat, on a series of hills overlooking the Arabian Sea on land controlled by the Omani Company for Development and Tourism, an Oman-government-owned tourism agency. It will include 3,500 luxury villas, two hotels with a total of 450 rooms and a golf course, as well as various restaurants and stores.

The project is part of what the government there is calling Oman Vision 2040 to try to diversify the small nation’s economy by building new hotels and golf courses and other tourist attractions. Officials in Oman did not respond Sunday to a request for comment on the project, nor did representatives for Dar Al Arkan, which is one of Saudi Arabia’s largest real estate companies.

Relations between the United States and Oman were not nearly as warm during Trump’s tenure as they were with Saudi Arabia. Oman declined to sign the agreement, called the Abraham Accords, that normalized relations between other Middle East nations and Israel.

Executives at Riyadh-based Dar Al Arkan sent out a news release Sunday confirming the deal with Trump Organization for the new project in Oman, while also distributing photos of Donald and Eric Trump at Trump Tower in New York with executives from Dar Al Arkan.

It is one of the first times since Trump was elected president that he has publicized his role in a new family real estate deal. The Trump family stopped signing new international deals after Trump was elected. The real estate deal with the Saudi partner in Oman is the first since he left the White House.

Ziad El Chaar, CEO of Dar Al Arkan Global, who attended the deal-signing event, used to work at Damac Properties, the Trump family’s partner in Dubai, where the family has licensed its name to what is known as Trump International Golf Club Dubai and Trump Estates at DAMAC Hills, a gated community adjacent to the fairways.

“We are confident the relationship with Trump will further enhance the beauty of Aida and attract investors from around the world looking to be part of an exceptional project,” El Chaar said in the statement released on Sunday.

Eric Trump, in a statement, said that the family company did not believe the new deal represented a conflict, and since the time his father was in office, it has worked to avoid any such conflicts. “We are excited to expand our golf and hotel portfolio in this incredible location,” he said Sunday. “It is going to be an exceptional project.”

Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Donald Trump’s campaign, responded to questions about the Oman deal, or whether the former president will be more involved with his business now, with a statement attacking the Biden administration.

The Oman deal was announced just as Trump was kicking off his third campaign for the White House, and while the Trump family, and Trump himself, are the target of a collection of civil and criminal investigations, including tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization and its long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.

If the company is convicted, it will face fines and potential blowback from lenders and business partners that might shy away from doing business with a felon; a conviction could also present new political challenges for Trump. But the maximum possible fine in the tax fraud case is only $1.62 million, a small amount for the company. In his most recent financial disclosure report, filed in early 2021 as Trump left the White House, Trump reported assets worth at least $1.3 billion.