Trump Defends Putin: ‘You Think Our Country’s So Innocent?’

President Donald Trump appeared to equate US actions with the authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview released Saturday, saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”

Trump made the remark during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, saying he respected his Russian counterpart.

“But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly said to Trump.

“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump replied.

A clip of the exchange was released Saturday and the full interview aired Sunday before the Super Bowl.

It was an unusual assertion coming from the President of the United States. Trump himself, however, has made similar points before.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December 2015.

He continued, “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity,” Trump said.
Russia would “prefer to receive apologies from such a respected TV company” following O’Reilly’s remarks, according to Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“We think that such words from a correspondent of the Fox News network are unacceptable, offensive, and we would, honestly, prefer to receive apologies from such a respected TV company,” Peskove said in a response to a CNN question during a telephone news conference. “As to the statement of the US president, in this case I would prefer to leave it without any comment.”

US Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s claim false.

“This is the second time Trump has defended Putin against the charge that he’s a killer by saying in effect that the US is no better or different,” Schiff told CNN. “This is as inexplicably bizarre as it is untrue. Does he not see the damage he does with comments like that, and the gift he gives to Russian propaganda?”

In the interview with O’Reilly, Trump noted that just because he respects someone “doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with them.”

“He’s a leader of his country and I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not, and if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world, a major fight — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with them? I have no idea,” Trump said.

Trump and Putin spoke on the phone last Saturday, and the two discussed cooperation in the fight against ISIS, among other areas.

(h/t CNN)

Media

Eric Trump Sticks Taxpayers With $97,830 Bill for Uruguayan Business Trip

Eric Trump, who along with his brother Donald Trump Jr. has been put in charge of their father’s sprawling international business empire while he is president, has stuck taxpayers with an astonishing $97,830 bill for a recent business trip to Uruguay.

The nearly $100,000 tab for the visit, which may have been as short as two nights, included some $88,320 in hotel rooms for Eric Trump’s Secret Service detail and an additional $9,510 in accommodations for U.S. embassy personnel who accompanied them, the Washington Post reported. While in Uruguay, Eric Trump enjoyed high-priced meals, attended an “ultra-exclusive” party thrown in his honor and mingled with the real estate brokers behind the 26-story Punta del Este project, which paid between $100,000 to $1 million for use of the Trump brand name.

It’s a clear-cut case of how President Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses and instead simply shift management concerns to his children has created a situation in which “government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself,” according to the Post.

Despite the president’s investments posing an enormous array of potential conflicts of interests, Trump at first proposed setting up what he called a “blind trust” and then later simply settled on putting his two sons in charge. Top ethics officials including Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub have described the move as insufficient to meet basic ethical concerns, while the administration has insisted Trump’s holdings are too extensive and tied to the value of his brand name for the president to divest.

Documents recently obtained by the Post show Trump is the sole beneficiary of the trust he set up for his holdings and can revoke it at any time, thus meaning he is continuing to profit from his brand while in office.

Documents Confirm Trump Still Benefiting From His Business

Before taking office, President Trump promised to place his assets in a trust designed to erect a wall between him and the businesses that made him wealthy.

But newly released documents show that Trump himself is the sole beneficiary of the trust and that it is legally controlled by his oldest son and a longtime employee.

The documents, obtained through a public records request by the investigative news service ProPublica and first reported by the New York Times, also show that Trump retains the legal power to revoke the trust at any time.

The documents were filed to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in Washington to alert the board that oversees liquor licenses at Trump’s D.C. hotel of the change in the business.

The documents show that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, were placed in legal control of the trust on Jan. 19, one day before Trump took office.

But they outline that the trust’s purpose is “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump,” who “has the power to revoke the Trust.”

The records provide documentary evidence of what ethics experts have been warning about since before Trump took office.

While Trump has promised he will observe a separation between his business and the presidency, he retains ownership of the business and will personally benefit if the business profits from decisions made by his government.

Further, the business will be run by family members who remain the most trusted members of Trump’s inner circle, raising questions about whether Trump’s promises to limit communication about the business’s fate are realistic.

“What I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” Trump had said at a news conference shortly before taking office. “They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”

Less than two weeks after returning to their New York City home following their father’s inauguration, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric Trump, also assigned to run the business, were back in Washington this week to attend the announcement of Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Trump Organization representatives did not respond for comment about the documents Saturday.

The trust also does not dissolve other potential conflicts, including his title as executive producer of the NBC competition reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” He recently made headlines for criticizing the show’s new host, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the National Prayer Breakfast.

NBC representatives have not said whether Trump will be compensated for that role, or how much. But executive producers are traditionally paid, even when only retaining a passive credit.

The trust document obtained by ProPublica is attached to license filings tied to Trump’s Washington hotel, and it remains unclear whether other Trump businesses are governed under the same trust. The company has declined multiple requests to provide company trust agreements that could provide more clarity.

In recent weeks, corporate filings have documented that the Trump Organization has been removing the president as an officer or director of the more than 400 entities registered across the country associated with the organization.

The Trump Organization also provided a list, signed by Trump on the day before his inauguration, of more than 400 companies from which he had agreed to resign. Other companies have been dissolved in recent months, the company said.

Those resignations provide evidence the president no longer has official management responsibilities in the businesses, as he and his attorney pledged during a news conference last month. Still, Trump will continue to profit from their success.

The company has also named Bobby Burchfield, a veteran Republican lawyer who has advised both Bush presidential teams, to serve as an outside ethics adviser, indicating that some corporate transactions would not be undertaken without his sign-off.

The question of Trump’s continued ownership stake has been particularly nettlesome at his Washington hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building and is owned by the federal government. The terms of the 2013 lease agreement with the General Services Administration prohibit any elected official from benefiting from the property.

It is not yet clear whether placing his shares in the hotel under the control of the trust will provide sufficient legal separation to satisfy the terms of the lease. The GSA, which controls the lease, indicated on Jan. 27 that it had received new information from the Trump Organization and was “reviewing and evaluating this information to assess its compliance with the terms and conditions of the Old Post Office lease.”

Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), have been pressing the GSA to conclude that the Trump Organization is out of compliance with the lease.

“This legal concoction from President Trump’s lawyers does nothing to address his conflicts of interest or the breach of the lease for his hotel,” Cummings said in a statement.

(h/t The Washington Post)

Trump Attacks ‘So-Called Judge’ Over Travel Ban Ruling

President Trump on Saturday issued a new defense of his controversial travel and refugee restrictions, defending the “ban” from the “so-called judge” who halted the order on Friday.

Federal Judge James Robart, appointed by former President George W. Bush and approved by a 99-0 Senate vote in 2004, issued an immediate nationwide restraining order against Trump’s action, which had cut off citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S.

Civil liberties groups applauded the ruling, but Trump vowed it would be overturned.

Despite the White House insisting this week the Trump order did not constitute a travel ban, Trump defended it as such on Saturday morning:

It’s not the first time Trump has publicly attacked a judge with whom he disagreed.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for citing the “Mexican heritage” of Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel as a reason he should recuse himself from lawsuits regarding Trump University.

(h/t The Hill)

 

 

 

Steve Bannon Described U.S. Jews as ‘Enablers’ of Jihad

In a treatment describing a documentary on a purported Muslim plan to take over America, Stephen Bannon, now President Donald Trump’s top strategic adviser, described the “American Jewish community” as among unwitting “enablers” of jihad.

Bannon, a former banker who transitioned into a career as an ultranationalist propagandist, culminating in his becoming a top adviser to the Trump campaign, made several right-wing documentaries in the 2000s.

The Washington Post reported Friday on a 2007 proposal for a documentary that was never made called “The Islamic States of America.” It would be comprised of interviews of people who, like Bannon, believe that the threat posed to the West is broader than Islamist extremist terrorists, embracing an array of Muslim advocacy groups.

It describes as “enablers among us” – albeit with the “best intentions” — major media outlets, the CIA and FBI, civil liberties groups, “universities and the left” and the “American Jewish Community.”

It also describes “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.”

Among these named by Bannon as “cultural jihadists” are the Islamic Society of North America, a group that had associations with the Muslim Brotherhood at its founding in the 1960s, but in recent years has worked closely with Jewish groups, including in combating anti-Semitism and raising Holocaust awareness among Muslims.

Before joining Trump’s campaign last summer, Bannon helmed Breitbart News, a site that is stridently pro-Israel, but which also has featured white nationalists and which Bannon once described as a platform for the “alt-right,” a loose-knit alliance that includes within it anti-Semites as well as right-wing Jews.

(h/t Times of Israel)

Trump Says He Cut Wall Street Reform Because His “Friends” Need Money

On Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order intended to roll back Dodd-Frank, the sprawling regulatory framework President Obama signed into law in 2010 to avoid another financial crisis, which was not entirely beloved on Wall Street. He also scrapped a fiduciary rule intended to protect retirees by forcing brokers and advisers to “work in the best interest of their clients.“ (This, too, was controversial.)

According to its defenders, Dodd-Frank has been a modestly successful, if tortuous affair, requiring banks to bend over backwards to comply with regulations that protect investors and consumers from abusive practices and excessive risk. According to Trump, it was inconveniencing his friends:

“There is nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than [JP Morgan C.E.O.] Jamie [Dimon]. So he has to tell me about it, but we expect to be cutting a lot from Dodd-Frank because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” Trump said Friday morning, shortly before signing the executive orders. “They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”

And here’s how Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs president turned White House National Economic Council Director made the case for getting rid of the fiduciary rule unveiled last spring:

“We think it is a bad rule. It is a bad rule for consumers. This is like putting only healthy food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger.”

That is literally the greatest analogy we’ve ever heard, and we challenge Cohn and the Trump administration to top it. (In fact, the only way they could is if Cohn appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday and said, “The fiduciary rule is like only putting out vape pens at a party, because crystal meth feels good but you still shouldn’t smoke it because you might die younger.” Let the consumer have their meth! How could more choice be bad, in an industry defined by vast asymmetries of information between brokers and consumers?

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Elizabeth Warren is obviously pissed about all of this.

“Donald Trump talked a big game about Wall Street during his campaign—but as president, we’re finding out whose side he’s really on,” the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. “Today, after literally standing alongside big bank and hedge fund C.E.O.s, he announced two orders—one that will make it easier for investment advisers to cheat you out of your retirement savings, and another that will put two former Goldman Sachs executives in charge of gutting the rules that protect you from financial fraud and another economic meltdown.”

Warren, along with Senator Tammy Baldwin, also sent a letter to Gary Cohn telling him he ought to “recuse himself from decisions directly or indirectly related to Goldman Sachs.”

(h/t Vanity Fair)

 

 

 

Trump Opens National Prayer Breakfast Asking to Pray for ‘The Apprentice’ Ratings

At an event attended by thousands from countries around the world, President Donald Trump opened his Thursday remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast with talk of TV ratings.

The president noted his “tremendous success” as star of the reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump hosted the show for 14 seasons, and followed up the fact of his success by noting the show’s drop in ratings since his departure.

“We know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster,” Trump said. Actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has since rebooted the show.

“And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can, for those ratings,” he joked.

The Austria native was quick to respond to the president’s remarks, suggesting they swap jobs:

Trump Vows to Overturn Ban on Political Activity by Churches

President Trump promised faith leaders Thursday that he would “totally destroy” the law that prohibits churches from engaging in political activity, a move that would upend 63 years of settled tax law.

In an appearance at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Trump said he would make good on his promise to overturn the so-called Johnson Amendment, which bans public charities — including churches — from campaigning for or against a candidate for for elected office. Those who do risk losing their tax exemption.

“Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said. “I will do that, remember.”

The statement was met by enthusiastic applause from the religious leaders.

The 1954 law is named for its author, then-senator Lyndon Johnson. Because it’s in the tax code, any change would have to come from Congress.

Campaign watchdogs criticized Trump’s call, saying it would open up another conduit for unlimited — and anonymous — money in elections. Religious groups can accept sums of any size and do not have make public their donors’ identities.

“This is a way to convert religious organizations, charities and educational groups into dark money organizations,” said Robert Weissman, president of the left-leaning group Public Citizen. Allowing groups that are exempt from paying taxes to engage in political activity would force the government to subsidize secret money in politics, he said.

The position is not a new one for Trump, who used it as a selling point to evangelical voters during his campaign. In a speech to the Values Voters Summit in Washington last September, Trump said, “The first thing we have to do is give our churches their voice back. It’s been taken away.”

Trump argued that the Johnson amendment has restricted not just political speech, but religious speech as well. “If they want to talk about Christianity, if they want to preach, if they want to talk about politics, they’re unable to do so,” he said in September. “All religious leaders should be able to freely express their thoughts and feelings on religious matters.”

(h/t USA Today)

Trump Threatens Funding Cut If UC Berkeley ‘Does Not Allow Free Speech’

President Trump early Thursday threatened to cut federal funding to the University of California, Berkley after violent protests broke out on its campus Wednesday in response to a planned appearance by a far-right commentator.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” the president tweeted Thursday morning.

A scheduled appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled Wednesday night about two hours before the Breitbart editor was scheduled to speak.

The university said in a statement the violence was “instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest,” according to NPR.

“This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,” U.C. Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet told The Associated Press.

More than 1,500 people had showed up to protest Yiannopoulos’s appearance on campus.

At least six people were injured, according to CNN.

Yiannopoulos called what happened “an expression of political violence,” according to CNN.

“I’m just stunned that hundreds of people … were so threatened by the idea that a conservative speaker might be persuasive, interesting, funny and might take some people with him, they have to shut it down at all costs,” he said in a Facebook Live video.

(h/t The Hill)

Millions in Campaign Funds Went to Trump Firms

President Trump’s campaign spent a total of $12.7 million at businesses run by him and his family members over the course of the 2016 presidential election, according to a tally of newly filed campaign-finance reports.

The largest sums went to Trump’s airline, TAG Air, which received $8.7 million as the Republican used his own jet to fly around the country, according to a USA TODAY analysis of year-end reports filed this week. Another $2 million went to Trump Tower, the Trump Organization skyscraper that housed his campaign headquarters.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, which Trump dubbed the Winter White House last month, received more than $435,000 during the campaign.

The spending at Trump properties, which continued after he won the election, underscores how much Trump was willing to mingle his political and business operations – from buying meals at his own Trump Grill to renting space at his own golf clubs.

More than $3,000 went to Trump ICE LLC, Trump’s bottled-water brand, for “office supplies,” according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In all, the amount spent at Trump businesses by his political operation represent a little more than 19% of the $66.1 million Trump himself donated to the campaign and less than 10% of the $133.6 million that flowed into his main campaign account from other donors.

The spending could well continue if he decides to seek re-election. Trump filed a statement of candidacy for the 2020 election on Inauguration Day because he had already surpassed the $5,000 fundraising threshold to require reporting contributions for the next election, he noted in a letter to the Federal Election Commission. That doesn’t mean he’s definitely running in 2020, Trump said in the filing.

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