April 4, 2017 John Hanno
The Grand Old Party’s ‘Tarbaby’ in Chief, Donald J. Trump, Gets Stickier Every Day.
What does this collection of Trump Administration cabinet members, advisors, consultants, close associates, confidants, immediate and extended family members and hangers on, all have in common? Its surly not their competence; all they’ve accomplished so far is to embarrass themselves and our country. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, only 35% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing and 52% of voters now say they’re embarrassed to have Trump as president.
The ‘Signer in Chief’ has orchestrated a b-grade primetime show in the oval office every day but it’s just a reality show con. The executive orders stuck under his nose for approval do nothing to raise America from its deeply divided malaise or solve any real problems; but do give us a hint at the GOP’s script for their new America. So far, it’s a remake pieced together from “Places in The Heart,” “O Brother Where Art Thou,” “Our Daily Bread” and of course, the “Grapes of Wrath.”
The Koch brothers HR department exerted their influence assembling this wrecking crew, with their single minded obsession with totally eradicating any hint of common sense Federal regulation. The Kochs and the fossil fuel and chemical industries have already begun stockpiling rewards (and presidential signing pens) for their campaign investments. The Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, reported on new EPA memos that explain the new system for eliminating environmental regulations; maybe that’s why only 29% of voters approve of the way Trump is handling the environment. Watch the video at theMaddowBlogonMSNBC.
And the gambling addicted banksters have been chomping at the bit ever since Barack Obama and the Dems installed watered down Dodd Frank regulations designed to reign in the worst excesses that caused the financial collapse and great recession. They’ve already begun dismantling what’s still in place.
It’s not this cast’s lofty credentials, or years of governing experience; no, that was the Obama Administration’s forte. This crew has little if any government expertise, and it shows in the floundering attempts at responsible governance.
Is it their political instincts and ability to compromise to get things done? No, these Winuts think any hint of compromise will be interpreted, by the Trump base and tea party voters, as total capitulation. The “Art of the Deal” is as credible as Trump University.
When Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court instead of healing the political divide by re-nominating Merrick Garland, he betrayed the American workers who voted for him and who will be harmed for decades by the extreme right anti-worker, pro business Gorsuch. Democrats are united in their opposition and the Republicans in the Senate threaten the nuclear option. But considering the quickly changing American demographics, Republicans should think long and hard about giving up legislative safeguards that protect minority interests.
Is it their sense of duty to serve their country during troubled times? No, what all these folks (with a few exceptions like General’s Mattis, Kelly and McMasters) have in common, is their unfailing and single-minded preoccupation at self dealing and self aggrandizement. They will forsake every ounce of empathy, decency, integrity, concern for the environment and American’s health and safety, and any sense of duty, patriotism or national pride, to enrich themselves and their families. That’s why 61% of American voters believe Trump is not honest.
It also appears that Trump, his family and everyone associated with him, were pliable dupes for Russian intelligence operatives bent on undermining American democracy and installing a compliant comrade in the White House.
Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hayes, Joy Reed and others at MSNBC and NBC, nightly untangle the intricate web of characters embroiled in Trumps conflicts of interest, their conduct bordering on treason, and the kompromat collected by Putin and his Russian operatives when they dangled fame and fortune in front of these nefarious profiteers.
Trump’s total dismantling of America’s diplomatic corps, lack of interest in manning up the State Department with peace makers, and throwing pallets full of money at the Pentagon, who already squander too much of America’s treasure, will do untold harm to American leadership in the world.
This administration has so far dodged the foreign affair crisis bullet, but that can’t last forever. Russia’s westward encroachment, China’s South China Sea incursions and North Korea’s resident crazy man, are dark clouds on the diplomatic horizon. Only 33% of voters approve of the way Trump is handling foreign policy.
I can’t even imagine what these Republi-crits would be doing if this soap opera was being orchestrated by Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I’m sure every congressional committee with office space, would be holding impeachment hearings, attempting to “lock him/her up.”
This unprecedented tragic epic will not end well for all the folks who reluctantly jumped on the Trump train. Self identified conservatives and evangelicals have lost what little credibility they still had, when they sold their souls to these Kleptocratic devils.
The uneducated white men entertaining suicidal tendencies, white women who ignored Trumps misogynistic treatment of their sisters, and workers left behind in the new world order (especially union labor) will not be rewarded for their misguided fealty. Workers who’ve dropped out of the work force long ago and who believed Trumps promise of living wage jobs, will only be let down again. Those won over by the promise of trillions in infrastructure spending will be disappointed, unless they hold campaign contribution IOU’s from Trump and the Republi-cons. Only 41% of voters believe, self described business superstar, Trump is doing a good job handling the economy.
Taxpayers who were counting on Trump for leveling the playing field, with comprehensive tax reform, will not be happy unless they’re in the same tax bracket neighborhood as the Donald and his hedge fund billionaire buds.
And since the ruse to fashion a tax cut for the rich and powerful by repealing Obamacare, failed to pass muster, Trump will need to raid the social programs his red state voters depend on for their bare existence, if he and Ryan are to make good on their promise to cut taxes for their corporate and wealthy benefactors. Trump’s approval rating on health care is 28%. And if Trump goes along with Ryan’s plan to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, seniors who believed Trumps insane promises, should finally be shocked from their deep sleep. 61% of voters believe Trump does not share their values and 57% believe Trump doesn’t care about the average American. Dah! This new White House and the Republi-con controlled congress have, and will continue to hoodwink their loyal voters and reward only the rich and powerful.
The din of American Democratic resistance from the left and center grows louder and more defiant every day. But so far, that principled resistance includes no one with a Repub in front of their name. It’s not surprising only 21% of voters approve of the job Republicans in congress are doing and 70% disapprove. How long will the party faithful stay stuck to this Trump Tarbaby? How long can this political house of cards survive?
Organizations like Indivisible, and others, might want to watch, and modify, the powerful speech of Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in “The Grapes of Wrath.” He tells his mother:
“I’ll (we’ll) be all around in the dark. I’ll (we’ll) be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll (we’ll) be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin up a guy, I’ll (we’ll) be there. I’ll (we’ll) be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll (we’ll) be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll (we’ll) be there too.” John Hanno
How the Koch Brothers Won the White House
By Lee Fang April 4, 2017
If the billionaire Koch brothers turn to the White House for favors, they will see many familiar faces.
Newly disclosed ethics forms reveal that a significant number of senior Trump staffers were previously employed by the sprawling network of hard-right and libertarian advocacy groups financed and controlled by Charles and David Koch, the conservative duo hyper-focused on entrenching Republican power, eliminating taxes and slashing environmental and labor regulations.
Some of the relationships were well-known. Marc Short, for instance, now Trump’s chief liaison to Congress, previously led Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the dark money nonprofit used by the Koch brothers and their donor cohort to dispense money to allied groups. Freedom Partners, which maintains an affiliate Super PAC, was at the center of the Kochs’ $750 million election effort during the campaign last year.
But the ethics forms, made available to the public on Friday evening, reveal a number of previously undisclosed financial ties between the Koch network and Trump’s inner circle of political aides.
Donald McGahn, Trump’s campaign attorney turned White House counsel, provided legal services to a range of outside Koch groups working to influence the election. McGahn, through the law firm Jones Day, advised Freedom Partners, as well as i360, the Koch’s big data firm set up to identify and target voters and Americans for Prosperity, the election advocacy and grassroots lobbying organization run by the Koch brothers. Ann Donaldson, McGahn’s chief of staff, came to the White House from McGahn’s law firm. Her financial disclosure shows that she also provided legal services to Freedom Partners and i360.
Kelleyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager turned close White House advisor, consulted over the last year for Americans for Prosperity’s national foundation, as well as for the Michigan and Ohio chapters of the group. Conway served as a board member for the Independent Women’s Forum, a Koch-backed group whose goal is “increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”
The fact that Trump’s political team worked for the Koch network during the campaign adds a new wrinkle to the relationship between the president and the most well-known pair of Republican billionaires.
The Koch network has long pioneered a strategy of backing GOP campaigns by using seemingly independent nonprofits and outside election groups. Election law prohibits organizations that raise and spend unlimited funds, such as the Freedom Partners’ Super PAC and Americans for Prosperity, from directly coordinating with candidates.
But those rules are rarely enforced. Moreover, campaigns and Super PACs have danced around the coordination prohibition by employing individuals who split their time between candidates and outside groups, making them a crucial conduit for potential coordination.
Despite the common myth that the Koch network, in the words of Politico, “sat out” the presidential campaign, Koch groups were active in battleground states that proved critical to Trump’s victory. Americans for Prosperity employed 650 staff members during the campaign, with many stationed in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri. The field staff, using the new data tools from i360, focused on making sure Republican voters made it to the polls.
In the aforementioned states, Americans for Prosperity also aired negative ads attacking Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of the campaign, linking her to Democratic candidates and problems allegedly caused by the Affordable Care Act. The ads, which blanketed swing state television stations, held Clinton responsible for healthcare with “higher cost, lost coverage, lost doctors.”
The election effort swept the GOP to a level of national power not seen since the 1920s. And the Koch network has been quick to seize upon unified Republican control of Washington to quickly score a range of policy and political victories.
Freedom Partners Vice President Andy Koenig told the Los Angeles Times after the election that his group hoped Trump would “walk in with an eraser” and wipe out as many Obama reforms as possible. The group formulated a “Roadmap to Repeal,” a memo calling for the administration to prioritize revoking the Paris climate change treaty, repealing clean water rules and eliminating limits on pollution from coal-fire power plants.
In recent weeks, Trump and congressional leaders have used a little-known procedure called the Congressional Review Act to swiftly roll back the very regulations identified by the Koch memo. And they have been aided by a team that came to the White House policy staff directly from the Koch network.
Koenig, the former Freedom Partners vice president, is now working in the White House as a policy assistant. Koenig’s financial disclosure shows that he made $320,000 at the group before moving through the revolving door.
In addition, Andrew Bremberg, now the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Betheny Scully, an official working in Trump’s Office of Legislative Affairs, both worked for Freedom Partners. Bremberg’s disclosure shows that he consulted for the group through a consulting firm he owns called Right Policy LLC.
The Trump policy team includes Brian Blase, a special assistant to the president working on healthcare issues, who came to the White House from the Mercatus Center, the Koch network think tank at George Mason University.
A number of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff also came directly from Koch organizations. Andeliz Castillo, named earlier this year as a Pence senior aide, came from the Libre Initiative, the Latino outreach arm of the Koch network. Stephen Ford, Pence’s director of speechwriting, previously worked as a speechwriter for Koch’s Freedom Parters.
To be sure, there is not perfect harmony between the Koch brothers and Trump. The Koch network harshly criticized the American Health Care Act, attacking it for not doing enough to repeal Obamacare. And the groups have lobbied against the so-called border adjustment tax, a proposal favored by some in the Trump White House.
But if the latest member-wide email from Americans for Prosperity is any indication, the Koch brothers have much to celebrate with Trump in the White House.
The email, titled, “Thank you, President Trump,” hails the president for issuing an executive order to repeal of Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” the biggest pillar in the previous administration’s climate change strategy. The message goes on to boast that Americans for Prosperity is providing the lobbying muscle, along with paid advertisements and mobilizing calls to Congress, to help confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
Meet the Billionaires Who Run Trump’s Government
By Nina Burleigh April 5, 2017
They’ve been coaxed out of their mansions and off their yachts by President Trump to make America great again—for the very, very rich.
Mr. Monopoly, that mustachioed fat cat with the Taftian profile, was about as close as most Americans got to a New York City billionaire until candidate Donald Trump started flying his jet to their cities and villages last year. Now they are practically an everyday sight, because President Donald Trump has coaxed a pack of them out of their penthouse triplexes, yachts and private jets to either join his Cabinet or sit on his councils and advisory boards. Trump voters know they’ve had a government for billionaires—that’s one reason they’re so mad—but to have one by billionaires means the Mighty Oz is now setting the nation’s agenda, and there is no curtain.
Anybody with $1 billion in net worth possesses a tranche of wealth greater than the gross domestic product of 60 nations. So what can a president give to these men who have everything? And what can they do for him and to the rest of America? The answer may be found in the most famous line from the Italian classic novel The Leopard, about the decaying Sicilian aristocracy: “Everything must change so that everything can remain the same.” The best gift Trump can give his rich friends from Manhattan is to appear to be shaking up the system while leaving their myriad tactics for manipulating and amassing capital unaffected by federal regulation and higher taxes. Less than three months into his presidency, Trump is well into that agenda—quietly deregulating the financial industry, stripping Barack Obama’s climate change rules from fossil fuel producers and promising to lower taxes on the very rich.
A billionaires’ takeover of the U.S. government was not one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, but in retrospect it was obvious he wasn’t going to bring in the sustainability MBAs—he doesn’t know any. Instead, he set up a government of, by and for his peers (or men the famously insecure Trump wishes to call his peers). His Cabinet of millionaires and billionaires is the richest in American history. The New York billionaires, though, have more in common with Russian oligarchs and Nigerian petro-magnates than with almost any other Americans—whether they are flipping burgers at McDonald’s or performing heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic. They have been sold to the public as men who will help Trump run the country “like a business,” in which the public is the consumer. After careers in which they put growing their colossal bank accounts ahead of the interests of small towns, working stiffs and the common weal, there is no reason to believe they will worry about how predatory lending or letting Obamacare “explode” affects real people. Trump’s billionaires are not government-hating ideologues like the Koch brothers or mega-donor Robert Mercer. They are more like what Trump used to be—unaffiliated centrists. And their agenda—and now the country’s agenda—is defined by those matters that affect their wallets.
Pity the Poor, Misunderstood Billionaire
“The rich aren’t rich anymore,” says society writer David Patrick Columbia. “My friend inherited hundreds of millions. She said to me, ‘I’m not rich anymore.’ They didn’t lose their money, but these other people make billions—some of them make a billion dollars a year. And that’s all they really care about. All those guys love talking about how much money they have. It’s what they like to do.”
Most of the billionaires Trump has lured to D.C. are, like him, members of the 1980s generation of leveraged-buyout tacticians, junk bond kings, corporate raiders and vulture capitalists. They got rich off of emerging financial tactics crafted to take advantage of Ronald Reagan’s great gift to Wall Street—ripping up the regulations put in place after the Great Depression. Trump adviser and corporate raider Carl Icahn (net worth $16.6 billion) is said to have been a model for Michael Douglas’s “Greed is good” character in Wall Street. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ($2.5 billion), policy adviser Stephen Schwarzman ($11.8 billion) and unofficial intel adviser Stephen Feinberg ($1.2 billion) all made their fortunes in the kind of investment banking that came into vogue after Wall Street decreed that social responsibility and business—the Jimmy Stewart banker model—were antithetical.
The New York real estate developers now advising the president—Steven Roth (net worth $1.1 billion) and Richard LeFrak ($6.5 billion)—spent their professional lives (as did Trump) in a mosh pit with politicians, city regulators, 50-story crane operators, cement mobsters and the motley crew of characters, unsavory and otherwise, responsible for the New York skyline and the surrounding area’s malls, golf courses and housing developments.
Whether they earned their money in investment banking or New Jersey strip malls and high rises, Trump’s billionaires have much in common with the rest of the New York’s 1 percent. They don’t pay much in taxes, and most don’t think they should pay much more. They loathe government regulations, and they are ferociously competitive. “They all know each other. They finance each other. And they all compete with one another,” says Holly Peterson, journalist, author of It Happens in the Hamptons and daughter of Peter Peterson, one of the New York billionaires who is not in Trump’s camp. “They sniff each other like dogs.”
But none of them are—again, like the president—burrowed into New York high society. In 1983, when Paul Fussell wrote his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, examining class in the U.S. from top to bottom, he described how one sign of top status was inherited wealth, and another the discreet display of that wealth. Those rules don’t apply anymore, at least not in New York society. Trump and his billionaires are elaborately and publicly rich, and while some of their dads were wealthy, they didn’t all start out that way. Schwarzman, the chairman of Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, is the son of a Pennsylvania dry goods store owner, and he now divides his time between a 37-room Park Avenue triplex, a Hamptons estate and villas in Palm Beach, Florida, and Jamaica. He is famous for blowing millions on his birthday bashes. Icahn went to a public high school in Far Rockaway, long before he bought himself a 177-foot yacht.
With the exception of Ross and his $250 million art collection, they aren’t aesthetes—even if their names are sometimes chiseled into the granite of gracious old public properties like main building of the New York Public Library (Schwarzman) or embossed in brass on the soaring buildings that house their companies. Trump famously smashed precious historic Bonwit Teller building’s architectural elements—coveted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art—to bits because to preserve them would have delayed work on Trump Tower by two weeks. Roth once left a massive eyesore of a hole in midtown Manhattan for nearly 10 years at the site of a department store he’d bought and demolished, in part to gain more city incentives to develop it.
New York billionaires are sometimes known for their noblesse oblige or devotion to civic causes, but not this crew. They are social-circuit philanthropists. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (the eighth richest man in the world, net worth $47.8 billion) invested his name and money advocating for gun control and famously pushed for a more environmentally friendly New York City while he was in office. New York billionaire Peter Peterson, Schwarzman’s former partner, put $1 billion into an economic think tank. And, along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 40 other billionaires, he signed the Giving Pledge, in which all promised to donate the majority of their wealth to charity. Schwarzman gave the New York Public Library $100 million, but only after being mocked a month before in The New Yorker for stinginess. (“He has given, but not remotely what he could,” sniffed one anonymous critic in that article.) Financial writer James B. Stewart has described how Schwarzman had trouble booking a prime table in the Grill Room at the Four Seasons, a high-society lunchtime scene. Schwarzman asked his then-partner, Peterson, about it, who explained, “It takes more than just money.”
Trump’s billionaires, while the richest men in New York City, are a tier below the cultural-financial establishment, the aristocracy. “I think the nature of all these guys is that they are not a part of a power or moneyed establishment,” says one Manhattan private equity investment banker who knows most of them. “You can be very, very rich without being terribly important here. It’s not like [Trump] has assembled a cabal of pathbreakers who disrupted the 21st century.”
They have been disruptors of another sort—as vulture capitalists or, more euphemistically, investors in distressed companies. Icahn was one of the first corporate raiders, and he invented “greenmail,” a now-outlawed 1980s practice in which big New York money would swoop in, buy up a block of stock, then force a company’s board to buy it back or risk a takeover. Among his many pelts in a career of corporate raiding, Icahn gets credit for killing the airline giant TWA.
Like Icahn, but of a generation younger, Feinberg made his name buying up and reorganizing companies. He founded the ominously named Cerberus Capital (in Greek mythology, Cerberus was the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of hades), which picked apart companies like Anchor Hocking, a glass factory in Ohio, bringing down a small town of Lancaster with it—a community tragedy told in the best-seller Glass House. Feinberg’s real passion is weaponry and military contracting; he bought up American gun companies and founded a weapons conglomerate called Freedom Group that, among other offerings, produces automatic weapons favored by the likes of the Sandy Hook school shooter. He also owns a private military training site, and his DynCorp is a leading defense contractor. Feinberg’s name is rarely published without the qualifiers “mysterious” or “reclusive.” Last year, a corporate spy reported to The New York Observer that Feinberg warned his Cerberus shareholders to stay out of the news. “We try to hide religiously,” he said. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” (None of the billionaires in this story responded to requests for comment, but only Feinberg’s office called back and verbally declined.)
New Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth $500 million), though not a billionaire, is another profits-over-people legend. He bought a California bank after the 2008 housing crash, and rehabilitated it by evicting tens of thousands of people, including many elderly and veterans. The subsequent protests—the newly homeless set up camp around his Los Angeles mansion—contributed to the demise of his second marriage.
Retired New York Post society columnist Liz Smith has known Trump since his first marriage, to Ivana, in the 1970s, and she watched New York society at first recoil from him, and then simply give in, as the corporate raiders who became Trump’s billionaire buddies took over Manhattan. “The current importance of money and big business and no ethics is discouraging,” she says. “In the beginning, the upper crust were all looking at the fact that he was a rich man, and they thought they could extract money from him for their charities. They found out fairly quick he was stingier than they were. I think the billionaires are supporting him with trepidation. They are nervous. They depend on the presidency for stability. They are patriots, most of them. They can’t help it if they’re rich.”
What Do You Give to the Man Who Takes Everything?
Trump’s billionaires share his two chief goals: a massive tax overhaul and deregulation, allowing them to make even more money, unimpeded by government intervention. The 99 percent have only the dimmest understanding of the strategies by which the 1 percent operate and profit. To most Americans, for example, bankruptcy is a disaster, a catastrophic credit rating hit, a personal failure and embarrassment suggesting sleeping in one’s car or moving back home with mom and dad. For Trump’s billionaires, bankruptcy—or as Trump put it, “the chapter laws”—is just another tool in the capitalist box, which includes various legal forms of stock manipulation, shorting pensions, crafting commercial building exchanges to avoid taxes and forcing a distressed or targeted company to buy back its own stock to raise its price.
Another magic trick of billionaire-dom is not paying taxes. Warren Buffett has pointed out that he and other billionaires pay lower taxes than a school teacher. Trump’s posse doesn’t share Buffett’s horror. Trump has avoided paying hundreds of millions in taxes over the years—legally—and so have his billionaires. Trump’s administration has made it very clear that it will expand tax benefits for billionaires. Mnuchin promised during his confirmation hearing that “there would be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” But lower taxes for the rich was always behind the Republican rush to repeal Obamacare and replace it with their still-born Trumpcare bill. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the proposal would have left 24 million people uninsured, mostly older and poorer Americans, while giving top earners a $158 billion tax savings on investment income. Trump blurted out the truth in a campaign style speech in Louisville, Kentucky, a week before the plan failed. “We’ve got to get this done before we can do the other,” Trump told the crowd. “In other words, we have to know what this is before we can do the big tax cuts.”
Trump’s tax overhaul plan, touted as the first real reform in 30 years, remains short on details, but one version gives the top 1 percent of Americans a 6.5 percent tax savings, compared with savings of 1.7 percent or less for middle and lower earners. Trump has promised to kill the alternative minimum tax levied on people like him, when their deductions can zero out their tax bill. According to his 2005 tax bill, Trump was taxed at 24 percent, thanks to the AMT.
The top executives of private equity firms—like Schwarzman, Icahn, Feinberg and, until he divested, Ross—all theoretically qualify for the carried interest deduction, which halves their tax rates. When Obama was stalking the carried interest deduction in 2010, Schwarzman nearly wet himself. “It’s a war,” he said at a July 2010 board meeting. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” He later apologized.
Special tax deals aren’t just for Wall Street tycoons. Real estate magnates like Trump can take advantage of a deduction Congress carved out for them in the 1990s. While average joes who lose money on real estate deals can no longer take full deductions, people who qualify as “real estate professionals” (Trump, LeFrak and Roth) can deduct their losses. Congress also allows developers to deduct the supposed depreciation of their property values over the course of 27 to 40 years, depending on the property type, despite the fact that real estate generally increases in value over time. That means, according to Morris Pearl, formerly managing director at the BlackRock Fund and director of the pro-tax Patriotic Millionaires, developers—and their heirs—never have to pay tax on property. “There are certain things the free market cannot do,” he says. “If you prefer a safer society over the long term, you want regulations. But the billionaires have a different perspective on things than other people. If you are Steve Schwarzman and your insurance company goes out of business because of shady deals, you don’t need the insurance regulator, you just find other insurance. If you are Steve Schwarzman, you pay about half the amount of taxes as other well-paid New Yorkers. Very few people care about carried interest tax deduction, but Schwarzman thinks he deserves it. Maybe he thinks there is a shortage of people willing to be fund managers, so we need to offer them special tax incentives.”
In addition to slashing their tax bills, some of the Trump billionaires have very specific requests and are not shy about expressing them. Special regulatory adviser Icahn is a majority investor in a Texas oil refinery that could have saved $205.9 million last year were it not for the Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable-fuel standard, which requires refiners to ensure that corn-based ethanol is blended into fuel. Since Trump’s election, Icahn has engaged in a lobbying blitz to change that rule, personally vetting EPA Director Scott Pruitt on it, and urging Trump to dump it.
Trump is also looking to tear up the Dodd-Frank financial reform law with its raft of regulations on the financial industry, and he announced it while sitting beside Schwarzman. Trump referred to discussions with “Steve” about the hated regulatory framework and said he looked forward to Schwarzman’s advice on how to improve the economy “for all Americans.” He then announced plans to roll back the work of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which lawmakers passed to protect consumers from predatory lending practices after the ’08 crash. He also signed an executive order that set the stage for rescinding the fiduciary rule, ultimately allowing financial advisers to again sell plans to clients that benefit the advisers themselves.
Trump’s billionaire boys club is theoretically on board with his anti-globalist stand. Commerce Secretary Ross announced in March that the formal process of renegotiating North American Free Trade Agreement was imminent. He has also announced plans to collect billions of dollars, mainly from China, in fines for breaking U.S. sanctions and other global trade rules. But nationalism is only a billionaire’s concern in the limited ways his holdings are affected by international affairs or global trade wars. While Trump’s alleged ties to Russians could prove his political downfall, in the world he and his billionaire posse inhabit, national borders are much less important than the relationships between multinational fiefdoms and the banks that back them.
The Trump Organization does deals all over the world, from Dubai to Istanbul to Moscow, but the president’s global branding operation is capitalism lite compared with, say, Ross’s multinational empire. Before his confirmation hearing, Ross agreed to divest hundreds millions of dollars in assets, including his piece of the Bank of Cyprus, which the Russian mob has reportedly used for money laundering. He is keeping his stake in a transoceanic tanker giant called Diamond S Shipping Group Inc. The Center for Public Integrity looked at that company’s operations and found its vessels sail under Chinese flags, and one of its ships has traveled to an Iranian port—which Diamond S has said was legal. Ten percent of its business comes from a Swiss company with stakes in Russian national oil giant Rosneft.
Ross’s internationalism is hardly unique. Feinberg’s DynCorp has reportedly trained Afghan police and has contracts in Saudi Arabia. Roth is building a New York apartment tower for the über-wealthy, with one of its units reportedly priced at a record $250 million—and the project is financed by nearly a billion dollars in Bank of China loans. It’s a good bet that the billionaires will probably see to it that Trump’s xenophobia doesn’t interfere with business.
If there’s one issue that binds almost all New York billionaires—even those who don’t support Trump—it’s a loathing of federal regulations, especially on the financial industry but also on commercial developments and industry. While not as historically active fighting regulations as, say, the Koch brothers, Icahn can’t wait for Trump to deregulate everything. He hailed his friend’s inaugural speech as a sign that “our dangerous slide towards socialism is over.”
In the chaotic first few months of his presidency, Trump’s signature achievement has been rampant deregulation. He has been ripping out, at a record pace, regulations covering everything from the financial industry to pollution to food safety to firearms. His billionaires and their accountants already know how this activity can improve their bottom line. What remains to be seen is whether average Americans will reap any collateral benefits, besides the newly won freedom to drive cars without mileage or emissions standards, take medications for off-label uses, drill for oil in national parks and, if mentally ill, buy a handgun.
Trump’s Billionaire Boys Club Directory
By Nina Burleigh April 5, 2017
Trump’s Cabinet and squadron of advisers is the richest in American history. They have been sold to the public as men who will help Trump run the country “like a business,” in which the public is the consumer. Here is a handy guide to their net worth, habitats and evil deeds.
Carl Icahn, $16.6 Billion
Queens, New York, 1936. B.A., Princeton University.
Icahn Enterprises LP, a conglomerate with more than 90,000 employees and a wide array of investments, from auto parts to casinos to food packaging, fashion and real estate.
Famous Evil Deed
One of the original 1980s corporate raiders, he gets credit for killing TWA, but perhaps Icahn’s dirtiest claim to fame was masterminding the now-illegal practice of “greenmail,” buying blocks of stock in companies and then forcing those companies to buy them back at inflated rates as ransom to save themselves from takeover.
Stephen Schwarzman, $11.8 billion
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, 1947. Son of a dry goods store owner. Undergrad at Yale where he was in Skull and Bones with George W. Bush. MBA, Harvard.
Co-founder of Blackstone Group, a multinational private equity firm and one of the largest alternative investment outfits in the world. Alternative investments include real estate, precious metals, commodities and art. It has $367 billion in assets.
Famous Evil Deed
He has been accused of being kind of a jerk, who says things like raising taxes on the working poor would make them try harder because they’d have “skin in the game,” and objects to his servants’ squeaky shoes. In 2008, when he was worth only $8 billion, he complained to a New Yorker writer that he didn’t feel rich.
Stephen Feinberg, $1.2 billion
Bronx, New York, 1960. B.A., Princeton.
Divides his time between a $50 million Manhattan townhouse (the former Egyptian Embassy, which boasts its own movie theater) and a 2,500-square-foot home in Connecticut.
Cerberus Capital Management LP, a hedge fund, private equity shop and investment bank with assets of $120 billion and stakes in at least 50 companies, including a grocery store chain, Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental concerns, Burger King and Air Canada, and the $1 billion defense contractor DynCorp. At one time, it also owned a piece of General Motors, and it profited from the taxpayer-funded bailout of the auto industry.
He owns a private 800-acre military site outside Memphis, Tennessee, called Tier 1, which has shooting ranges, on-road and off-road driving courses, and a parachute-drop zone, as well as an “urban-combat compound” designed to look like an Afghan village. He is also an avid big-game hunter.
Famous Evil Deed
He named his private equity company after the mythical three-headed dog at the gates of hades, so you know the list is too long for the brief entry in this taxonomy. To pick but a few, after his Cerberus Capital played a big role in gutting Ohio’s Anchor Hocking Glass Co. (the sordid details of that saga are laid out in Brian Alexander’s book Glass House ), he turned to collecting gun companies, and his Freedom Group now controls at least a dozen gun manufacturers, including companies that make the assault rifle used in the Sandy Hook school massacre and other mass shootings.
An unofficial adviser on the intelligence community. Donald Trump at one point suggested he would assign him to investigate intelligence leaks. Recently photographed with Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis on an aircraft carrier.
Wilbur Ross, $2.5 billion
Weehawken, New Jersey, 1937. Undergrad at Yale. MBA, Harvard.
Founded WL Ross & Co. LLC.
Maintains a $125 million art collection with his wife.
Famous Evil Deed
His Cabinet confirmation was nearly derailed over his partnership with Russian oligarchs in the Bank of Cyprus, which is believed to be a money-laundering hub.
Steven Roth, $1.1 billion
Bronx, New York, 1941. Undergrad at Dartmouth, Tuck School of Business MBA.
Chairman and CEO of Vornado Realty Trust, which, according to Crain’s, holds 50 buildings and is New York’s largest commercial landlord. Until last year, it also had a giant portfolio in Washington, D.C.
Co-chairman, Trump’s infrastructure committee.
Richard LeFrak, $6.5 billion
New York City, 1945. B.A., Amherst College. J.D, Columbia University.
Manhattan and Southampton. He’s super-private, so details are sketchy.
Like Trump, LeFrak is the son of a real estate magnate who inherited and expanded a large New York family brand. LeFrak’s father, Sam, came to America as a designer for Tiffany’s and started a company in 1905 that (like Trump’s father) built middle-class housing in Queens. The LeFrak Organization is now one of the biggest landlords in the tristate area, with some 94,000 rental units. It also owns oil companies and operates as a private equity investor.
Favors to Trump
After Trump’s inaugural address, LeFrak went on CNBC and tried to calm the public, claiming his friend has “more good sense” than he gets credit for. “There’s always a bit of negotiating posture in a lot of the things he says.”
Co-chairman, Trump’s infrastructure committee.
Robert Woods “Woody” Johnson IV, $6.3 billion
New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1947. Undergrad at University of Arizona.
Johnson Company Inc. a private investment firm. But his real fortune derives from his inherited piece of the Johnson & Johnson global medical products multinational, founded by his great-grandfather Robert Woods Johnson in 1885.
The New York Jets.
Famous Evil Deed
Not known around Manhattan for doing evil (unless you’re a Jets fan) but thought to be a little “mellow.” He was such a stoner in college that he once took a break from a party in Arizona to urinate and fell off a cliff, breaking his back.
Ambassador to the U.K., a position once filled by the likes of Joseph Kennedy and five men who later became president. His only known connection to Britain is that the Jets once played a game in London.
Evangelical slams Trump voters for accepting his ‘warped morality’ in jaw-dropping Christian magazine essay
Sarah K. Burris April 5, 2017
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laughed at a video of President Donald Trump praying for an increase in ratings for “The Apprentice” earlier this year during the National Prayer Breakfast. But many evangelical Christians aren’t laughing at Trump’s “warped morality” and casual Christianity.
In an op-ed for the Christian Post, Marvin Thompson, a former missionary who spent 25 years in Africa, called out hypocritical Evangelical Christians who continue to support Trump.
He began by citing an April editorial in the Los Angeles Times that called Trump “a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters.” He emphasized the “worst in American voters,” noting the “gravity of the situation for a community that professes to stand on the infallible truth of the Gospel and on immutable biblical principles.”
Trump overwhelmingly won the Christian evangelical vote in November, according to exit polling data. In fact, Trump has the voting block to thank for ensuring he made it through the Republican Primary elections.
“Consider, further, what we know about Trump, about his lack of a moral compass and his unabashed embrace of it,” he wrote, citing Trump’s many attacks on women, the disabled and what he called Trump’s “contempt for God.”
“Nothing has changed since his election as President,” he continued. “Except, he now has the power to propagate his warped morality. This power was given to him by the evangelicals.”
Thompson wondered if evangelical Christians have somehow decided it was morally acceptable behavior or that they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. If it’s the latter, he believes it calls into question whether evangelicals actually have a grasp on the meaning and understanding of the Bible, to begin with. He goes on to take the “charitable” position that Trump-supporting evangelicals lack the knowledge of God and what is actually required for Christians to maintain “godly integrity in a morally corrupt society.”
“Just like elections have consequences, there are consequences for evangelicals’ lack of knowledge,” he went on.
After citing scripture, Thompson closed by warning evangelical Christians that the only thing to come of an alliance between good and evil “is the dissolution of the good.”
“The worst in American voters speaks of those who empowered Trump,” he concluded. “What made evangelicals bypass candidates with obvious biblical principles and more godly character for a man so devoid of those virtues? Alas, he appealed to their core values of character and morality. That is an indictment on evangelicals because their overt support validates and elevates his crassness and gutter character. The problem for evangelicals and the Church is convincing the world of sinners, skeptics, and cynics that there remains any abiding morality.”
Trump Can Pull Money From His Businesses Whenever He Wants — Without Ever Telling Us
Previously unreported changes to President Trump’s trust stipulate that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request.”
by Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw ProPublica, April 3, 2017
When President Donald Trump placed his businesses in a trust upon entering the White House, he put his sons in charge and claimed to distance himself from his sprawling empire. “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh you did a good job,’” Trump said at a Jan. 11 press conference. Trump’s lawyer explained that the president “was completely isolating himself from his business interests.”
The setup has long been slammed as insufficient, far short of the full divestment that many ethics experts say is needed to avoid conflicts of interest. A small phrase buried deep in a set of recently released letters between the Trump Organization and the government shows just how little separation there actually is.
Trump can draw money from his more than 400 businesses, at any time, without disclosing it.
The previously unreported changes to a trust document, signed on Feb. 10, stipulates that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request” or whenever his son and longtime attorney “deem appropriate.” That can include everything from profits to the underlying assets, such as the businesses themselves.
“It’s incredibly broad language,” said Frederick J. Tansill, a family estate and trust attorney outside Washington, D.C., who reviewed the documents for ProPublica.
There is nothing requiring Trump to disclose when he takes profits from the trust, which could go directly into his bank or brokerage account. That’s because both the trust and Trump Organization are privately held. The only people who know the details of the Trump trust’s finances are its trustees, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer. Trump’s other son, Eric, has been listed as an adviser to the trust, according to this revised document.
The Trump Organization did not answer detailed questions about the trust. In a statement to ProPublica about the companies’ corporate structures, a Trump Organization spokeswoman, Amanda Miller, said, “President Trump believed it was important to create multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decision.” (Sic.)
There is a chance Trump will list his profits in his next federal financial disclosure, in May 2018, but the form doesn’t require it. The surest way to see what profits Trump is taking would be the release of his tax returns — which hasn’t happened. Income has to be reported to the IRS, whether it comes from a trust or someplace else.
“For tax purposes, it’s as if the trust doesn’t exist at all,” said Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It’s just an entity on paper, nothing more.”
It’s not clear why Trump added the language to the trust document. His original trust document, which ProPublica obtained in January, designated Trump as the “exclusive beneficiary.” It did not include any restrictions on when Trump could get the money.
Taking profits regularly could benefit Trump in a variety of ways. It would give the president yet more details on the ongoing finances of his businesses. Trump’s son Eric recently told Forbes he plans to update his father on the company regularly, though the revised trust document states that the trustees “shall not provide any report to Donald J. Trump on the holdings and sources of income of the Trust.”
Trump could also simply find the income helpful, even as president. The trust document shows that Trump has “broad rights to the trust principal and income to support him as necessary,” Tansill said.
The General Services Administration released the document last week when it approved the Trump Organization’s plan to address conflicts involving the Trump International Hotel in D.C. (The GSA, which handles procurement for the government, owns the land and Trump has a 60-year lease for the building.) In response to criticism about Trump being, in effect, both tenant and landlord, he agreed to not take any profits from the hotel while in office.
The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust
DJT Holdings LLC
Trump National Golf Club, Philadelphia
(TNGC Pine Hill LLC)
Profits will go into a separate company account, which can only be used for hotel upkeep, improvements or debt payments. Watchdog groups have derided that deal as insufficient, noting that pouring profits back into the hotel will make it more valuable in the long term.
With Trump’s hundreds of other businesses, including golf courses, hotels and branding deals, profits from each go to a holding company and eventually into Trump’s trust. Other corporate documents we obtained, reflecting changes made after President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, show how money flows from a golf club outside Philadelphia to the president’s trust (as shown at left).
There soon could be many more Trump family businesses.
The Trump Organization has recently touted plans to open hotels across the country, including a second one in Washington, D.C. “It’s full steam ahead,” Trump Hotel CEO Eric Danziger said recently. “It’s in the Trump boys’ DNA.”
Derek Kravitz is the research editor at ProPublica.
Al Shaw is a news applications developer at ProPublica.
Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock
While in Congress, HHS Secretary Tom Price acted to help kill a rule that would hurt drug company profits shortly after his broker bought him up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stock.
by Robert Faturechi ProPublica, March 31, 2017
Independent Journalism is Fundamental to Democracy. Support ProPublica now.
ProPublica’s ongoing coverage of the 45th President.
On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.
Stock trades made by Price while he served in Congress came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The lawmaker, a physician, traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry, but Price has said his broker acted on his behalf without his involvement or knowledge. ProPublica previously reported that his trading is said to have been under investigation by federal prosecutors.
On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. Previous reports have noted that, a month later, Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration, which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t necessarily improve patient outcomes.
What hasn’t been previously known is Price’s personal appeal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the rule, called the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model.
The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.
“Chairman Price may briefly bring up … his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”
The call was scheduled for the following week, according to the emails.
An HHS spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment from Price. DiBlasio and Conway didn’t respond to questions about the phone call.
Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services traded stocks of health-related companies while working on legislation affecting the firms. A source says Bharara was overseeing an investigation. The White House didn’t immediately comment.
The proposed rule drew wide opposition from members of both parties as well as industry lobbyists and some patient advocacy groups. It was meant to change a system under which the government reimburses doctors the average sales price for drugs administered in their offices or inside clinics, along with a 6 percent bonus. Some health analysts say that bonus encourages doctors to pad their profits by selecting more expensive treatments.
Critics argued that the rule might cause Medicare enrollees to lose access to lifesaving drugs. Lawmakers worried the federal government was potentially endangering patients and turning them into guinea pigs in a wide-scale experiment in cost savings.
However, supporters of the rule said the experiment in payments was the kind of drastic action needed to rein in soaring health costs. “We are actively reforming every other aspect of our health-care system to pay for value except pharmaceuticals,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said at the time. “Drug manufacturers are the only entity that can charge Medicare anything they want.”
The six companies that Price invested in were steadfastly opposed to the rule. McKesson formally warned investors in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that such a change could hurt share prices. The firms lobbied the government to kill the plan.
And at two of the six companies Price invested in, people who used to work for the congressman were part of the lobbying effort.
Price’s former chief of staff, Matt McGinley, lobbied House members for Amgen, disclosure records show. Another former Price aide, Keagan Lenihan, lobbied on behalf of McKesson, where she was director of government relations at the time. Lenihan has since reunited with Price, returning to government to work as a senior adviser to her old boss at HHS.
Neither McGinley nor Lenihan responded to requests for comment.
Although Price said he wasn’t aware of his broker’s trades at the time they were made, he would have learned of his holdings no later than April 2016 when he signed and filed his latest financial disclosure forms. In earlier disclosures, Price signed forms listing his other health-related holdings, which included some drug stocks.
Price’s personal intervention raises more questions about the overlap between his investments and his work as a member of Congress.
According to House ethics guidelines, “contacting an executive branch agency” represents “a degree of advocacy above and beyond that involved in voting” on legislation where a financial conflict of interest may exist.
“Such actions may implicate the rules and standards … that prohibit the use of one‘s official position for personal gain,” the guidelines state. “Whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests, the Member should first contact the Standards Committee for guidance.”
Tom Rust, chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment, saying any consultations with members of Congress are confidential.
In December, after Trump was elected and named Price as his choice to lead HHS, Obama administration health officials scrapped their plan to change the drug reimbursement system. “The complexity of the issues and the limited time available led to the decision not to finalize the rule at this time,” a spokesman said.
Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica.
Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price
Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services traded stocks of health-related companies while working on legislation affecting the firms. A source says Bharara was overseeing an investigation. The White House didn’t immediately comment.
by Robert Faturechi ProPublica, March 17, 2017
Support Independent Nonprofit News
Support ProPublica’s mission to expose abuses of power and corruption.
ProPublica’s ongoing coverage of the 45th President.
Update, Mar. 19, 2017:
Asked about this report during an appearance today on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he and his lawyers haven’t received any indication of a federal investigation into his stock trades. “I know nothing about that whatsoever,” Price said.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.
Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.
Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.
The investigation of Price’s trades by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, said the person.
Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara’s firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.
When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara’s resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.
“I did not resign,” he wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Moments ago I was fired.”
“By the way,” Bharara said in a second tweet, “now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.”
Bharara was referring to a commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission’s work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.
Bharara referred questions from ProPublica to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson there declined to comment. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price’s trades.
In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while taking actions that could have affected those companies. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee and sat on the Ways and Means Committee’s health panel.
In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics — a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted “investigational new drug” status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process.
Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA. As ProPublica has reported, Price’s office has taken up the causes of health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.
Innate Immunotherapeutics’ CEO Simon Wilkinson told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and have no knowledge of authorities looking at Price’s stock trades.
Another transaction that drew scrutiny was a 2016 purchase of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet.
Price has said that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker.
After hearing from a company whose CEO was a campaign contributor, a congressional aide to Donald Trump’s HHS nominee repeatedly pushed a federal health agency to remove a critical drug study from its website.
In a third case, reported by Time magazine, Price invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading a legislative and public relations effort that eventually killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those companies.
Louise Slaughter, a Democratic Congress member from New York who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price’s stock trades. “The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge,” she wrote.
What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is not known.
Along with the Price matter, Bharara’s former office is investigating allegations relating to Fox News, and has been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump has received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business. Bharara’s former deputy, Joon Kim, is now in charge of the office, but Trump is expected to nominate his replacement within weeks.
ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and research editor Derek Kravitz contributed to this story.
For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on how Tom Price’s office went to bat for a pharma company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.
Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica.
A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy
Carter Page told BuzzFeed News that he had been in contact with at least one Russian spy working undercover out of Moscow’s UN office in 2013.
Ali Watkins BuzzFeed News Reporter, Posted on April 3, 2017
NEW YORK — A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013.
The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.
A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed News has confirmed that “Male-1” is Page.
The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence — which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump — is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump’s campaign-era associates — including Page — had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the course of the election. Page has volunteered to help Senate investigators in their inquiry.
It remains unclear how connected Page was to the Trump campaign. He rose to prominence seemingly out of nowhere last summer, touted by then-candidate Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page was quickly cut from the Trump team following reports that federal investigators were probing his ties to Russian officials. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last month that the campaign had sent Page cease and desist letters last year, demanding he stop associating himself with it.
A US intelligence official said that investigators intend to question Page eventually, but that he was not considered a high priority. “There’s so many people that are more relevant,” the official said.
The court filing includes a colorful transcript of Podobnyy speaking with Sporyshev about trying to recruit Page.
“[Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. … He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up,” Podobnyy said. “I also promised him a lot … This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself.”
Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Monday that he is “Male-1” in the court filing and said he had been in contact with Podobnyy, who was working at the time at Moscow’s UN office in New York City under diplomatic cover, although he was really an SVR agent. Pressed on details of his contact with Podobnyy, Page said their interactions did not include anything sensitive.
According to the complaint, Page met Podobnyy in January 2013 at an energy conference in New York. It says that from January to June of that year, Page met with, emailed with, and “provided documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business.”
After federal investigators were looking into the ring, focusing on Podobnyy, Sporyshev, as well as a third man, Evgeny Buryakov, Page was interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agent Gregory Monaghan and another unnamed FBI agent in June 2013, the filing reads.
Podobnyy and Sporyshev were charged in absentia — working under official cover positions, they were afforded diplomatic immunity and were whisked out of the country. Buryakov, who worked under unofficial cover as an employee of state-controlled Vnesheconombank in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was due to have been released from a federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, on Saturday, and returned to Moscow.
Speaking with BuzzFeed News, Page suggested that the complaint was written so that it was obvious he was the Gazprom-connected man Podobnyy talked about recruiting.
“In this city? Give me a break,” he said. “It is so obvious.”
In a previous conversation, when asked if he had ever met with Russian intelligence operatives, Page told BuzzFeed News in a message on the Telegram messaging app: “I’M VERY CAREFUL WHEN I SAY ‘NEVER’ BUT EVEN IF I HAD INADVERTENTLY HAD ‘CONTACT’ SUCH AS BRIEFLY SAYING HELLO TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT FALL UNDER THAT LABEL IN PASSING NOTHING I EVER SAID TO THEM OR ANYONE ELSE WOULD’VE EVER BROKEN ANY LAW.”
A dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, used to brief then-president Obama, then-president-elect Trump, and Gang of Eight congressional leaders in January, cited a Kremlin official as saying that the Kremlin had sought a relationship with certain figures in the US, including Page, and had indirectly funded some of their visits to Russia. Page denied playing a role in the Kremlin’s attempt to undermine the US election in conversations with BuzzFeed News.
“I didn’t do anything wrong…. including meeting with any of those people I’m falsely accused of in that Dodgy Dossier,” Page told BuzzFeed News in a message last month.
Ali Watkins is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.
The Nation, Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement
An explosion of new activism offers a ray of hope in these dark political times.
By Joshua Holland February 6, 2017
The election of Donald Trump was a catastrophe for progressive America, but the damage may be mitigated over the long term by a remarkable surge of energy on the left in response to his election. As many as 5.2 million people participated in hastily organized Women’s Marches across the country, senators’ phones have reportedly been jammed with calls protesting Trump’s cabinet nominees and other early moves, and, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, more than one in three Democrats say they plan to become “more involved in the political process in the next year” as a result of the election. That’s true of 40 percent of Democratic women, and almost half of self-identified liberal Democrats.
The widely held view that Trump is an illegitimate president who’s poised to enact an agenda combining the worst of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “granny-starving” fiscal conservatism with White House consigliere Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalism has fueled the formation of dozens of new grassroots resistance groups. Some were launched by seasoned political operatives, others by people who hadn’t engaged in activism in the past. Some were germinated during chats on long bus rides to the Women’s March. Not all of them will succeed—some false starts are a given—but like any collection of innovative start-ups, it only takes a few successes to change the landscape.
Here’s an overview of some of the new efforts launched since November 9. It’s by no means comprehensive, but we started with a list of 75 new groups and whittled them down to some of the most interesting or promising. They’re not presented in any kind of ranked order. Our hope is that knowing how others are standing up to Trump will inspire more readers to get involved.
When a handful of current and former congressional staffers posted a guide on Google Docs outlining the most effective ways for ordinary people to lobby their representatives, they had no idea it would blow up the way it has.
“We believe that Donald Trump’s agenda does not depend on Donald Trump–it depends on members of Congress rubber-stamping that agenda,” says Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project. “And perhaps the only great thing about Congress is that members are responsive to their constituents. Every member of Congress wakes up thinking about re-election.”
Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of “practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.” This, he adds, “was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff—going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”
Within hours of posting the guide, the website crashed under the weight of traffic—Levin says that 1.5 million people have downloaded it so far. “Blown away” by the response, they decided to expand the project with a local focus. “The really exciting thing that’s happened is the emergence of Indivisible groups across the country,” says Levin. The website allows you to enter your zip code and connect with like-minded people in your community. Levin says that 5,300 groups have registered so far, and 200,000 have signed up to participate. “And what’s so exciting is that the majority are brand new people who are coming together post-election to figure out what to do.”
#KnockEveryDoor co-founder Zack Malitz says that “in the 2016 election, Democrats didn’t invest enough in going door to door and talking to voters. And where they did, they didn’t reach out to people who needed to be persuaded or who were perennially discouraged from voting.” So he and some other former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers and volunteers got together and decided to organize canvassers to…knock on every door in the country.
“Talking to every voter requires a new approach to organizing,” says Malitz. “You’ll never be able to hire enough field organizers to support that kind of effort if you assume that a volunteer has to be directly in touch with a campaign staffer before they can get to work. So our approach is radical trust in volunteers—not just to knock on doors, but to organize their neighbors to knock on doors, to lead canvassing trainings, to barnstorm their communities, and even to run critical pieces of campaign infrastructure and technology. That’s the only way you can organize at a scale where it really is possible to knock on every door.”
The group launched just two weeks ago, and 2,000 people have already signed up to participate. Last weekend, they held 17 canvassing events around the country. You can join the effort at the link above or chip in a few bucks to support this work.
Swing Left was launched by a small group of friends who had little experience with political activism. The goal is to sign up progressive activists in safe congressional districts to canvas in the nearest swing district and ultimately flip the House to Democratic control in 2018.
“Voters in ‘safe’ districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions,” says co-founder Miriam Stone. “At the same time, House midterm elections, including in swing districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of swing districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races. We believe there’s something powerful in the idea of individuals personally connecting with each other and rallying around specific, local Swing Districts.”
Over 280,000 people have signed up so far, according to Stone. So far, the organizers have covered the costs of the operation out of their own pockets, and they’re now looking for funding as well as volunteers.
Run for Something
This organization, launched January 20, is committed to recruiting and supporting millennials running for down-ballot offices. “If you’re a young progressive who’s not necessarily part of the system or familiar with politics, there was really nowhere for you to go to ask for help if you wanted to run,” says Amanda Litman, a former Clinton campaign staffer and co-founder of the group. “Candidate recruitment is a time-intensive activity that requires a lot of manpower and resources, and it’s something that the state parties and state committees just couldn’t do properly because they’re already doing so much. So we’re trying to fill that gap.”
Millennials who want to get into electoral politics will be able to access training, pick the brains of experienced mentors, and in some cases get help with funding and staff. Litman says that in less than two weeks since the project’s launch, they’ve signed up almost 3,000 young candidates to run for local office. She says that the group didn’t expect the response they’ve gotten, and are now building out infrastructure to handle the demand.
Freedom of Information Act guru Ryan Shapiro, who has been a thorn in the side of both the Bush and Obama administrations, calls FOIA a “radical experiment in transparency,” at least in theory. In practice, government agencies have become adept at deflecting or deferring FOIA requests, and it takes a special skill set to navigate these bureaucracies.
Shapiro and attorney Jeffrey Light, a specialist in FOIA litigation, had been doing their work part-time, but, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the duo decided that they needed to redouble their efforts. “Jeffrey and I have been doing this work for years,” says Shapiro. “We have thousands of FOIA requests in motion with various federal agencies. We currently 15 fifteen active FOIA lawsuits against the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, and other agencies, as well as numerous additional lawsuits in the pipeline.”
Shapiro says that he and Light had “expected to continue fighting government secrecy under Hillary Clinton. But on November 9, faced with Donald Trump’s overt contempt for transparency, freedom of the press, and the Constitution itself, we realized we now needed to significantly expand our efforts. We founded Operation 45 so we can focus on this work full-time, as well as bring on other people to assist as we scale up to take on the Trump administration. We have the expertise and the vision, now it’s just a question of resources.” You can get more information at the link above, or chip in a few bucks toward their efforts at GoFundMe.
Technically, we’re cheating here: There was a #Movement2016 website, but it was sort of a work-in-progress. After the election, organizers revamped the project and relaunched it as #Movement2017, and it’s a useful tool for those who want to offer financial support to lesser-known organizations in their communities.
Veteran organizer Billy Wimsatt, who launched the effort, says that while the big progressive advocacy organizations will play an important role in the resistance, the idea behind Movement 2017 is that small-dollar donations to local grassroots groups can often make the difference between their succeeding and fizzling out.
But how can one know that one of these groups is using its resources wisely and doing valuable work? Movement 2017, says Wimsatt, is “a platform to donate to the resistance in a vetted way. We feature 200 of the best, local progressive vote groups in key 2018 states, along with selected national groups. There are a zillion donate lists floating around, but most aren’t vetted and they tend to focus on large brand names. We focus on scrappy groups that offer the biggest bang for the buck.”
The Pussyhat Project
Who would have thought of knitting as a vehicle for defending women’s rights? Two erstwhile non-activists from Los Angeles—architect Jayna Zweiman and screenwriter Krista Suh. And they appear to have hit on something, given how rapidly the Pussyhat Project has taken off.
The idea was to bring people together in knitting circles, where they would produce handmade pussyhats for participants in the women’s marches, as well as family and friends, and while they’re at it, plot the resistance.
“The traditional knitting circle is a fantastic opportunity to have discussions,” says Zweiman. “People are coming together to create something, but they’re also there with a group of like-minded people, often for several hours, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about women’s rights and come up with ideas about what we can be doing—for creating a community around activism.”
The other goal was to give people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a protest an opportunity to participate in the movement. Zweiman was recovering from a concussion during the Women’s March, and couldn’t deal with large crowds. She says that, “when you see that sea of pink hats, you understand that it’s not just about the people out in the street marching, but also those supporting the marchers.”
In November, a group of friends–most of them longtime activists–got together to console one another in aftermath of the election. “We started talking about what keeps us going in the face of hard realities. We realized that what gives us hope and energy to keep going with our work is the fact that we are members of activist groups,” says Talia Cooper, who co-founded the project with Pippi Kessler, Sonia Alexander, and David Mahfouda. “We realized that a lot of people got activated since the election, and some of them say that they’re not sure what to do. So we’re working to direct people who are new to the movement to organizations led by experienced activists and seasoned organizers.”
They developed a quiz to help match newly hatched activists with the right organization, and what began as a six-week project has now expanded into something more, with 70 volunteers working on one aspect of the campaign or another. Cooper says that over 10,000 people have taken the quiz so far. At this point, they’ve focused primarily on groups working in the New York–Philadelphia region and the Bay Area, but the group plans on taking their database nationwide.
It’s been an all-volunteer effort so far, but Cooper says, “we’re realizing that this might start to cost us some money. If people want to support us in that they can donate.” You can also suggest worthy groups to include in the campaign.
Some other noteworthy groups and campaigns…
Brought to you by the scrappy organizers behind what’s been described as the largest march in US history, the Women’s March 10/100 Campaign is trying to keep the momentum going. Sign up and commit to participating in ten concrete actions during the first 100 days of the Trump regime.
THE STAKES ARE HIGHER NOW THAN EVER. GET THE NATION IN YOUR INBOX.
The Town Hall Project is an unfunded, crowdsourced, Facebook-based project that researches “every district and state for public events with Members of Congress,” and makes the info available via a Google spreadsheet in the hope that people will engage their representatives face to face. They also “have a team of organizers that works with local groups on the ground to coordinate efforts and encourage citizens to amplify their voices,” according to their “about” page.
#ResistTrumpTuesdays is a joint project of The Working Families Party, MoveOn, and People’s Action. Its goal is to turn large numbers of activists out every Tuesday to fight back against a different element of Trump’s agenda. You can follow the action by clicking on the Twitter hashtag above.
Co-founded by The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, Justice Democrats is recruiting progressive candidates to challenge “corporate-backed Democrats” in primaries and “rebuild the party from scratch.”
Millennials for Revolution, a group of former People for Bernie organizers, wanted to “take the opposition to DC,” but realized that activists, especially younger ones, need a base of operations in the belly of the beast—a place to strategize and if necessary stay for a few nights. They’ve neared their goal of raising $50,000 to cover rent on a space near the Capitol for a year—90 percent of their donations turned out to be $27—and signed a lease on a property this week. For more info, or if you want to support their effort, check out District 13 House.
You can sign up for a weekly “act of resistance,” and pledge to follow through, at wall-of-us, another new effort to capitalize on the energy of the Women’s March.
Organizers are planning a Scientists’ March on Washington, DC, on April 22.
The ACLU reportedly raised $24 million during the weekend following the announcement of Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” but there are dozens of local legal aid groups that will also need support as the resistance spreads. Rewire compiled a list of 24 of these smaller legal-aid organizations, with brief descriptions of each.
Concerned about the spread of fake news? It’s a difficult problem to tackle, but Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy and author of The Filter Bubble, launched a humble spreadsheet to crowdsource ideas, and it has since “become a hive of collaborative activity, with hundreds of journalists and other contributors brainstorming strategies for pushing back against publishers that peddle falsehoods,” according to Fortune. The spreadsheet, titled “Design Solutions for Fake News,” is here.
You can also hit Breitbart News and other sites that peddle in bigotry and white nationalism in their pocketbooks by getting involved with a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants. Their strategy is simple: Make sure that corporations are aware of the kind of content that appears alongside their ads. This New York Times story offers more detail about the campaign.
Feeling overwhelmed by the rush of real news about the Trump regime? Matt Kiser, a tech writer by day, launched a side project chronicling “the daily shock and awe in Trump’s America.” The goal of whatthefuckjusthappenedtoday.com, according to the site’s “about” page, “is to capture the most important news in a digestible form.”
It may be a Hail Mary pass, but the organizers behind ImpeachTrumpNow, John Bonifaz, and Norman Solomon, are veteran progressive activists who lay out a compelling case at the link above.
Buycott Trump is trying to get people to vote with their dollars. Organizers have launched a new campaign on top of an existing app that allows you to scan barcodes and QVCs, and offers you information about the politics of the companies who make the products you see on store shelves. You can find links to download the app at the link above.
You can also enter your phone number at White House, Inc. or DialItUpNow.com, and be randomly connected to a Trump property somewhere in the world, where you can politely discuss the issues that matter to you—and in the process keep their lines tied up.
With Trump in the White House, and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, popular resistance has never been more important. It’s too soon to tell which of these groups will take off and succeed, but it’s not too early to throw yourself into one of these worthy efforts. And if we’ve overlooked a new effort that you think is important, let other readers know about it in the comments.
Listen to Joshua Holland on the growing resistance to Trump on the Start Making Sense podcast.
Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything, Frances Fox Piven
The People Are Leading the Politicians in the Fight Against Trump, Joan Walsh