Oil Lobby Met With Trump Interior Secretary at Trump Hotel

The oil industry’s most powerful lobbying group met on March 23 with President Trump’s interior secretary at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. It also happened to be the same day the administration killed a rule that oil companies opposed.

The location of the meeting is raising eyebrows and ethical questions. The Trump International Hotel, situated just blocks from the White House, is ground zero for companies and foreign leaders who may be trying to cozy up to the president by using his properties, critics and ethics experts fear.

“It creates the appearance they are currying favor” by staying at a Trump hotel, said Lawrence Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog.

Noble, a CNN contributor, said while the meeting may not violate specific ethics rules, it shows that companies have discovered a “not-so-subtle way of showing support for the president.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addressed the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) board of directors on that day at the Trump International Hotel, according to Zinke’s recently-released schedule.

Zinke, a strong advocate of the oil industry, spoke for 10 minutes, and then held a brief question-and-answer session, the Interior Department confirmed in a statement to CNNMoney.

That same day, the Interior Department announced plans to get rid of an Obama-era rule toughening standards on how much fossil fuel companies owe the government for drilling and mining on federal land. The energy industry had fought the rule. The oil industry group had even filed a lawsuit against it in December 2016.

The very next day, on March 24, the API put out a statement saying it was “pleased” by the Interior Department’s decision to get rid of the rule’s “substantial burdens.”

The Interior Department defended Zinke’s appearance at the API event.

“Like many secretaries before him, the Secretary was invited to speak at API’s meeting and he accepted the invitation. There is nothing unusual about a secretary speaking to stakeholders,” Heather Swift, a spokesperson for the department, said in a statement.

Swift said Zinke spoke about his “goals for the Department of the Interior and American energy.”

The Interior Department’s ethics office said it had “thoroughly vetted” Zinke’s API meeting. “We found that it presented no ethics violation or conflict of interest,” the ethics office said.

Noble, the ethics expert, agrees that meeting with an industry group “in and of itself is not unusual” as long as Zinke didn’t insist the gathering take place at a Trump hotel. There’s no evidence that Zinke picked the location of the API meeting.

It’s not clear how much the API spent on holding the meeting at the Trump International Hotel. Events at the hotel likely cost at least $100,000, The Washington Post has previously reported.

Neither the API nor the Trump Organization responded to requests for comment.

Zinke’s schedule doesn’t indicate who attended the meeting with API, which is chaired by ConocoPhillips (COP) CEO Ryan Lance.

The Trump International Hotel, which opened last September on the grounds of a renovated post office, has been a lightning rod for controversy. The Trump Organization rents space for the hotel from the General Services Administration, an agency of the Untied States government.

As president, Trump oversees the GSA, which makes him effectively both landlord and tenant.

Critics have argued the hotel violates the lease terms because there is a clause saying no government official can be a party to the 60-year lease that was signed in 2013.

In March, the federal government ruled that the hotel is not in violation of its lease. The GSA cited Trump’s decision to transfer control of his vast business empire to his sons and a Trump Organization executive.

However, Trump is still the ultimate beneficiary of the success of the company and the hotel.

Noble said there’s an easy way to resolve concerns about such conflicts involving Trump’s hotel.

“Just decide you won’t do any government business at the president’s hotel. Set a rule,” he said.

[CNN]

Trump Profited From Kids Cancer Charity

The Trump Organization took in healthy profits in recent years for hosting a charity golf event to benefit children’s cancer research, despite claiming the use of the course had been donated Forbes reported Tuesday.

Since 2007, President Trump’s son Eric Trump has held an annual charity golf event at the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., to raise money for the Eric Trump Foundation on behalf of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Forbes reported. To date, Eric Trump has raised more than $11 million — including $2.9 million last year — for the hospital’s research, most of it through the golf tournaments, according to Forbes.

The costs for the tournaments averaged $50,000 during the first four years, which is about what other charities pay for events at Trump courses. But the expenses quickly began to rise, reaching $322,000 by 2015, Forbes reported, citing IRS filings.

If accurate, these figures are hard to reconcile with Eric Trump’s claims that the charity is able to use the course for free and that many other expenses are donated. “We get to use our assets 100% free of charge,” the president’s son told Forbes.

“In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it’s clear that the course wasn’t free — that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization,” Forbes reported. “Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.”

In addition, more than $500,000 in donations were given to other charities, “many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses,” the magazine reported.

According to Forbes, the spike in costs for the tournament started in 2011 when Donald Trump insisted the charity begin paying the Trump Organization for the events.

Ian Gillule, who worked as a membership and marketing director at the Westchester course, told Forbes that Donald Trump was not happy with the expenses the charity wasn’t being billed for.

“Mr. Trump had a cow,” Forbes quoted Gillule as saying. “He flipped. He was like, ‘We’re donating all of this stuff, and there’s no paper trail? No credit?’ And he went nuts. He said, ‘I don’t care if it’s my son or not — everybody gets billed.'”

The Donald J. Trump Foundation gave $100,000 to the Eric Trump Foundation to help offset the increase in costs, Gillule told Forbes. That means donors to the Donald J. Trump Foundation — the Trump family had not given money to that foundation for several years — saw $100,000 of their donations pass on as revenue to the Trump Organization by way of charges to the Eric Trump Foundation.

Eric Trump announced he would stop fundraising in December and is now acting as co-head of the Trump Organization during his father’s presidency. The Eric Trump Foundation changed its name to Curetivity and plans to continue to hold charity golf events for St. Jude, Forbes reported.

[USA Today]

 

 

DeVos ‘Not Going to Be Issuing Decrees’ on Civil Rights Protections

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos clashed with Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday over protections for LGBT students, balking when asked directly if she would ban private schools from receiving federal funds if they discriminate against these students.

The Trump administration wants to invest millions into an unprecedented expansion of private-school vouchers and public-private charter schools, prompting critics to worry that religious schools, for example, might expel LGBT students or, more broadly, that private schools might refuse to admit students with disabilities. Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos told Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “Let me be clear: Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law. Period.”

But after another Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, pointed out that federal law is “somewhat foggy” surrounding LGBT student protections, DeVos simply repeated that schools must follow federal law, adding, “Discrimination in any form is wrong.”

Merkley pressed again, asking DeVos point-blank whether private and charter schools receiving federal funds under Trump’s budget proposal could discriminate against students based on sexual orientation or religion.

She said the department “is not going to be issuing decrees” on civil rights protections.

Merkley asked Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who chairs the subcommittee, to note that DeVos refused to directly answer the question.

DeVos came under fire last month for a nearly identical exchange, refusing to tell a House Appropriations subcommittee whether she would block federal voucher funding to private schools that discriminate against LGBT students. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told DeVos, “To take the federal government’s responsibility out of that is just appalling and sad.”

DeVos’ spokeswoman later said the controversy stemmed from a “fundamental misunderstanding” by lawmakers about what the secretary was talking about. On Tuesday, DeVos sought to clarify that she wasn’t talking about a specific voucher proposal. “It is really appropriations language,” she said.

During the nearly two-and-a-half-hour hearing, DeVos defended the Trump administration’s proposed $9 billion cut to education, saying the planned 13% reduction in funding may seem shocking, but it’s necessary.

“I’ve seen the headlines, and I understand those figures are alarming for many,” DeVos told lawmakers, according to her prepared testimony. The proposed 2018 budget, she said, refocuses the department on supporting states and school districts in their efforts to provide “high-quality education” to all students while simplifying college funding, among other efforts.

Overall, Trump plans to eliminate or phase out 22 programs that the administration says are “duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through state, local, or private efforts.”

The administration wants to cut teacher training, vocational training and before- and after-school programs, among others. It also wants to eliminate subsidized loans and a new loan forgiveness program for students who commit to public service after college. Trump wants to funnel the savings into several school choice proposals — including a $250 million fund for expanding public funding of private-school vouchers.

The proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress. On Tuesday, Blunt, a Republican, called it “a difficult budget request to defend,” saying deep cuts to programs like after-school would be “all but impossible” to get through the committee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Trump’s budget request “can be summed up in one word: abysmal.”

As she has recently, DeVos on Tuesday took a swat at past federal efforts to reform education, noting that discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Education quadrupled between 1989 and 2016, from $17.1 billion to $68.3 billion.

The “seemingly endless” reform efforts, she said, have been top-down and have generated “more publicity than results,” failing to close long-standing achievement gaps between white, middle-class students and their low-income and minority peers. They’ve also produced disappointing results for high school graduation and college completion rates.

While achievement has been mixed in recent decades, high school graduation and college completion rates have actually risen, sometimes sharply. Federal data show that in 2015, the graduation rate for public high school students rose to a record-high 83%. U.S. colleges also awarded more degrees — 961,167, up 35.2% from a decade earlier.

A GOP mega-donor and four-time chair of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos previously ran an organization that promotes private-school choice. DeVos last month called school choice critics “flat-earthers” and said expanding families’ educational choices is a way to bring U.S. education “out of the Stone Age and into the future.”

On Tuesday, she said more choice would help families in more ways than one, noting that when parents decide proactively which school their child should attend, “there’s a lot more engagement, naturally, as a result of that.”

Media

 

 

Donald Trump Jr. Joins Father in Bashing London Mayor After Terror Attack

London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s time would be better spent addressing the terrorism in his own city instead of attacking U.S. President Donald Trump, the president’s son said in an interview that aired Tuesday morning.

“Rather than the mayor of London attacking maybe he should do something about it,” Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Maybe he should do something to fix the problem rather than just sit there and pretend there isn’t one. I think that’s an important message.”

The president first criticized Khan, via a post to Twitter, in the hours after the London terrorist attack, quoting the mayor out of context to suggest that he was downplaying the severity of the incident. A spokesman for Khan responded that the mayor “has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks.”

The president lobbed another insult across the ocean Monday morning, again via Twitter, criticizing what he called a “pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!”

Nonetheless, Donald Trump Jr. suggested that his father will ultimately be vindicated and that a more proactive approach would ultimately be to London’s benefit.

“Every time he puts something out there he gets criticized by the media all day every day by everyone else and guess what? Two weeks later he’s proven to be right,” the president’s son said. “It happened again and we keep appeasing it and keep saying, ‘okay, it’s going to be great. We’re going to hold fast and we’re going to keep calm and carry on.’ Maybe we have to keep calm and actually do something. And I think that’s what he’s trying to say because he’s been proven right every time.”

[Politico]

Media

BBC News

Trump Is Celebrating the Meltdown of the U.S.’s Middle East Alliance on Twitter

A number of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, have cut off relations with Qatar, the super-rich state you may know in other contexts as home of Al-Jazeera and the controversial future host of the World Cup. It’s a major crisis and, like all other conflicts in the Middle East (and elsewhere on Earth) its causes are complicated, but one of the biggest elements at play is that other regional governments are angry about the clandestine support that Qatar provides to radical insurgent groups like ISIS. For his part, President Trump celebrated the Saudis’ aggressive moves Tuesday morning on Twitter:

Trump is not wrong about Qatar funding extremism; the problem, rather, is that Qatar plays both sides of the street and is also the home of the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East. Some 11,000 U.S. troops are stationed at al-Udeid Air Base, including the staff of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, which supervises the U.S.’s air forces in such critical countries as Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. America also still maintains a close military relationship with Saudi Arabia, which of course has its own long history of fostering jihadism.

We actually know thanks to Russia and WikiLeaks that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta bounced around the idea of pressuring Qatar over its support for ISIS, so it’s not as if Trump is completely off the map here in terms of U.S. interests. But it does seem that there may be a more judicious—or, if you will, diplomatic—way to handle this fire than pouring gasoline on it.

[Salon]

 

 

 

 

President Trump’s Hotel Received $270,000 from Saudi Arabia

The Trump International Hotel recently took in about $270,000 in payments tied to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the country fights to roll back a U.S. terrorism law, according to newly filed lobbying reports.

The spending, which covered lodging, catering and parking expenses, was disclosed in Justice Department filings last week by MSL Group Americas, a public relations firm. The filings detailed the work the firm engaged in between Oct. 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017 on behalf of the Saudis, Bahrain and other foreign governments.

In a statement Monday night, Trump Organization officials said they would donate any profits from the transactions at the end of the year.

The disclosure of Saudi spending, however, could spark fresh debate about President Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his real-estate and branding empire while serving in the White House. Trump turned over management of his companies to his adult sons and a veteran Trump Organization executive but still can benefit financially from his business interests.

Last month, Trump visited Saudi Arabia, the first stop on the first foreign trip of his presidency

The firm reported paying more than $190,200 for lodging, $78,204 for catering and roughly $1,600 for parking at the Trump International Hotel in Washington — part of a larger campaign by the Saudis that brought U.S. military veterans to the nation’s capital to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or JASTA. The Daily Caller first reported on the hotel payments.

Last year, Congress passed a bill over President Obama’s veto that would allow families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any alleged role in the plot. The Gulf nation has denied any role in the attacks and is lobbying to ease the law’s provisions.

Democrats on Capitol Hill and ethics watchdogs have argued that Trump’s continued ownership of his businesses could lead to a violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars foreign payments to U.S. officials without congressional approval.

White House officials referred questions about the Saudi payments to the Trump Organization.

Before he took office, Trump pledged to donate foreign profits from his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. However, the Trump Organization is not trying to comprehensively identify all foreign profits to its hotel business, according to a company policy document recently provided to the House Oversight Committee.

“To fully and completely identify all patronage at our properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand,” the Trump Organization’s document said.

[USA Today]

President Trump Calls London Mayor’s Words ‘Pathetic Excuse’

President Trump maintained his feud Monday with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, two days after a terrorist attack in the British capital.

“Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement,” Trump tweeted. “MSM is working hard to sell it!”

Trump, who also hit Khan for “alarmed” comment on Sunday, did take it out of context — the mayor was referring to the increased police presence in the city in the wake of the Saturday night attack, not to the attack itself.

Kahn’s statement in full:

My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today. You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.

The mayor has not responded to the president, but a spokesman told British media that Khan has “more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks.”

During Monday’s press briefing, Trump spokesperson Sarah Sanders said that she did not see Trump’s comments as “picking a fight with the mayor of London at all.” Rather, he was trying to make a point about national security.

[USA Today]

 

 

Trump’s Huge Saudi Arms Deal is a Big Lie

Among the purported accomplishments of Donald Trump’s first presidential trip abroad—the one in which he insulted NATO allies, lost a handshake battle with French president Emmanuel Macron, and labeled Germans “bad, very bad”—the White House was eager to publicize the “tremendous” $110 billion arms and investments deal he struck with Saudi Arabia. According to The New York Times, the agreement was spearheaded by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who personally intervened to close the deal. “Let’s get this done today,” he reportedly told a delegation of Saudis in Washington ahead of the president’s high-profile flight to Riyadh.

“The deal was finalized in part thanks to the direct involvement of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser,” CNN reported at the time. “He shocked a high-level Saudi delegation earlier this month when he personally called Lockheed Martin C.E.O. Marillyn Hewson and asked if she would cut the price of a sophisticated missile detection system, according to a source with knowledge of the call.” Soon after, the president signed the deal in a ceremony with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

There’s just one small problem: according to Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow and director at the Brookings Intelligence Project, the so-called deal is more of a wish list than a matter of fact. Or, to use Trump’s favorite phrase, it’s “fake news.”

Riedel, who worked for the C.I.A. for 30 years, writes that all of his sources in the defense business and on Capitol Hill say “there is no $110 billion deal” but rather “a bunch of letters of interest or intent but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday,” but “so far, nothing has been notified to the Senate for review.” The arms sales division of the Pentagon, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Riedel writes, has labeled them “intended sales.” And here’s the kicker: “none of the deals identified so far are new; all began in the Obama administration.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Riedel’s claims.)

Some of Reidel’s reporting isn’t new—as the Times noted in its story at the time (“$110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch”), several of the weapons in the proposed package had already been approved under Obama. But leave it to Donald Trump, a brand licensing tycoon who has always been more style than substance, to play up a rough draft of a potential agreement as a groundbreaking diplomatic success. His son-in-law, it seems, has a flair for selling a good story, too.

[Vanity Fair]

Kellyanne Conway Attacks News Agencies for Covering Trump’s Tweets

Top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway issued a new broadside against the media on Monday when she attacked reporters for covering things that the President of the United States says on Twitter.

Appearing on NBC’s Today, Conway knocked the press’s “obsession with covering everything [President Donald Trump] says on Twitter, and not what he does as president.”

However, co-host Craig Melvin called out Conway for knocking the media’s “obsession” with Trump’s Twitter feed by noting that Twitter is “his preferred method of communication with the American people.”

“That’s not true!” Conway objected.

“Well, he hasn’t given an interview in three weeks,” Melvin shot back. “So lately it has been his preferred method.”

Despite Conway’s assertions, Trump White House officials have often stressed that the president’s use of a Twitter is a way for him to communicate directly with the American public without having to go through the filter of the American media.

[Raw Story]

Media

Trump: I am calling it a ‘TRAVEL BAN!’

President Trump early Monday made clear the intent of a blocked executive order on immigration now being appealed to the Supreme Court.

“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” he tweeted.

Trump also said in a series of tweets that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should have fought for his original order, instead of the “watered down, politically correct version” submitted to the Supreme Court.

He said the DOJ should ask for an expedited Supreme Court hearing for the “watered down Travel Ban” and then seek a “much tougher version.”

Trump in his final tweet on the subject said his administration is “EXTREME VETTING” people now coming into the U.S.

“The courts are slow and political!” he added.

Administration officials had rejected the characterization of Trump’s executive order as a travel ban, instead saying it was a vetting system to keep America safe.

Trump over the weekend reignited the debate over the topic following a London terror attack in which seven people were killed and almost 50 others injured.

In a tweet on Saturday, Trump renewed his call for the courts to approve his revised executive order, which would temporarily bar nationals from six predominately Muslim countries from entering the U.S. and suspend the acceptance of refugees for 120 days.

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough,” Trump said. “We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

The Trump administration issued its original travel ban in January. That order, which was blocked by the courts, was met with backlash and protests across the country.

The president then issued a revised ban in March aimed at defusing the controversy and defeating court challenges.

Last week, the Trump administration appealed lower-court decisions to block the revised ban to the Supreme Court.

In a statement last week, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said the department had “asked the Supreme Court to hear this important case and [is] confident that President Trump’s executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe and protect our communities from terrorism.”

“The president is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism,” the statement said, “until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States.”

Over the weekend, some Republicans echoed the president’s renewed calls for his travel ban following the London attack, while other lawmakers appeared to disagree with Trump and instead called for inclusion and community.

[The Hill]

 

 

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