Trump: ‘Fake news’ that no one wants chief of staff job

President Trump on Tuesday pushed back on reports that he’s had difficulty finding candidates interested in serving as his next chief of staff, claiming “over ten” people are fighting to get the job.

“Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position,” Trump wrote. “Why wouldn’t someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington.”

The president accused the “fake news” of getting the story “purposely wrong.”

Multiple news reports in the last 24 hours have portrayed Trump as scrambling to find his next chief of staff after the presumptive favorite for the position, Nick Ayers, said he would not be taking the job.

Sources told The Hill there was no clear plan B after Ayers, currently Vice President Pence’s top aide, dropped out.

Other candidates for the job include Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Meadows said on Monday that it would be an “incredible honor” to be chosen as chief of staff, while the other candidates have reportedly indicated they’d prefer to stay in their current roles.

Trump announced on Saturday that chief of staff John Kelly would depart the administration at the end of the year, marking the end of an often acrimonious relationship between the two men.

With Kelly’s exit, Trump will seek his third chief of staff in the two years since he took office. Kelly took over in mid-2017 for former chief of staff Reince Priebus.

[The Hill]

Don’t condemn white nationalists, Veterans Affairs’ diversity chief was told after Charlottesville, emails show

A top White House appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response, newly disclosed emails show.

The tense exchange between Georgia Coffey, a nationally recognized expert in workplace diversity and race relations, and John Ullyot, who remains VA’s chief communications official, occurred during a low point in Trump’s presidency: when he blamed “many sides” for the deadly clash in Charlottesville without singling out the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who rallied there.

One woman was killed and dozens were injured in the August 2017 protest, which began over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and ended when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.

VA’s secretary at the time, David Shulkin, made headlines that week when he appeared to break with Trump, telling reporters the violence in Charlottesville “outraged” him. Coffey, a career senior executive at VA, pressed the agency’s leaders to issue a statement making it clear that VA stood against such a “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the emails.

The emails were provided to The Washington Post by the nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight, which obtained them via the Freedom of Information Act. The correspondence sheds new light on the politically delicate decisions federal agencies faced as officials sought to balance the need to address employee concerns with a desire not to upset the White House.

A statement from VA leaders was necessary, Coffey wrote in one email to Ullyot, because the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar caused by the Charlottesville violence. Minorities make up more than 40 percent of VA’s 380,000 employees, the federal government’s second-largest agency.

Ullyot told Coffey to stand down, the emails show. A person familiar with their dispute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that Ullyot was enforcing a directive from the White House, where officials were scrambling to contain the fallout from Trump’s comments, and they did not want government officials to call further attention to the controversy.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency received no such guidance from the White House.

Coffey, who declined to comment, retired from VA shortly after the dust-up, frustrated with what she felt was a lack of support from the Trump administration, according to her former colleagues. She now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.

Ullyot, a seasoned media professional who worked on Trump’s campaign, is VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. His exchange with Coffey was respectful, and he noted that he was acting at Shulkin’s direction, according to his emails. Shulkin, whom Trump forced out of the Cabinet post in March, and other officials were copied on the messages.

At VA, the fallout from Charlottesville remains a sensitive subject. In response to a request seeking comment for this report, VA’s current secretary, Robert Wilkie, issued a statement affirming that “John Ullyot is on the VA team because he is committed to veterans and has spent a lifetime of exceptional service as a Marine and public servant.”

Ullyot referred questions to VA’s public affairs office.

On Aug. 17, days after the Charlottesville violence, Coffey — then deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion — emailed public affairs. She shared a draft of her statement and accompanying remarks, and requested help disseminating it to employees and the public.

Her remarks said the incident served “as a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.” She called on VA employees to be mindful of federal anti-discrimination policies and the agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The response from a staffer in public affairs said, “John Ullyot does not want to post the message, as the Secretary previously made statements in the news media on this topic earlier this week.”

In an emotional statement the day before, at Trump’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Shulkin said he gave “my personal opinions as an American and as a Jewish American. . . . And for me in particular, I think in learning history, that we know that staying silent on these issues is simply not acceptable.”

Other top administration officials echoed his sentiments.

Coffey urged expediency, telling Ullyot that she had sent the statement to Shulkin and his chief of staff for their review, according to their email exchange.

Ullyot then indicated that after consulting with Shulkin, the secretary said that “we should all feel free to share our own personal views on the recent events . . . as he did.’’ Ullyot wanted to remove the statement’s more incendiary language but told Coffey she could keep the part that reminded employees of VA’s “strong commitment” to equal employment opportunity and diversity, their emails show.

Coffey told Ullyot that she worried his edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel,” the emails show. She offered to remove Shulkin’s name from the statement, but Ullyot told her that he and Shulkin had agreed not to use it.

Shulkin said in an interview that he does not recall his conversations with Ullyot about how VA should respond to the incident. “I’ve been pretty public about my opinions on the Charlottesville events . . . and of course I think all Americans should express their views,” he said.

Coffey’s staff worried that she would get in trouble if she disregarded Ullyot’s guidance, according to other emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that first publicized the episode last year. The staff suggested that she should tone down her remarks, but Coffey declined. She posted the full remarks under her name in the monthly newsletter posted online by VA’s diversity office. Agency officials removed it and reprimanded her. She retired soon after.

Cashour said Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John how he wanted this particular issue handled.” The secretary, Cashour said, was “adamant that VA employees keep their personal views on the Charlottesville issue out of official VA communications, as Shulkin had done himself in public comments two days beforehand. John was simply ensuring that Coffey understood and followed Shulkin’s guidance.”

The agency has grappled with issues surrounding race in recent years.

VA has long had an Office on Diversity and Inclusion to help improve race relations internally, and during the Obama administration appointed a senior official to travel around the country to set up conversations on race. The official, John Fuller, retired last year, citing a lack of support from the Trump administration.

In October, a senior official in VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization was forced to remove a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard, from his office in Washington after offending employees. The official said he was unaware of Forrest’s affiliation with the hate group.

The same month, VA took down a placard outside a conference room in the same office that employees had named for Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general. Cashour said officials were unaware the room had been named for Jackson and blamed a contractor employed by VA and the contractor’s supervisor. The contractor was instructed to take down the placard but had failed to do so, Cashour said.

[Washington Post]

Trump’s pick for EPA already rolling back climate change protections

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a “driving force” behind the agenda of Sen. James Inhofe, who called climate change a “hoax,” according to people familiar with Wheeler’s work for the senator.

President Donald Trump has said he intends to nominate Wheeler as the head of the EPA, and in the past five months as acting administrator, Wheeler has moved aggressively to roll back key environmental regulations, prompting critics and environmentalists to say he is fast confirming their worst fears for the agency’s future.

Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is an outspoken climate change skeptic who was at different times chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe told CNN last year the EPA was “brainwashing our kids,” and famously once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming isn’t real.

Inhofe said in a 2003 Senate speech, “I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax,” adding, “the claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.”

Wheeler worked for Inhofe for 14 years, and was his chief counsel and staff director. In that role, Wheeler would have overseen hearings Inhofe held and approved reports Inhofe issued claiming humans have no direct impact on climate change, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. In videos of committee hearings at the time, Wheeler is often seen whispering in Inhofe’s ear and handing him paperwork. In the 2008 “Almanac of the Unelected,” Wheeler’s job is described as “to work on (Inhofe’s) agenda for the committee.”

At a Washington Post forum last week, Wheeler said, “I believe … that man does … have an impact on the climate. That CO2 has an impact on the climate and we do take that seriously.” At the same forum, he admitted he had not read the climate change report released by his agency, which outlined dire warnings of the impact of global warming.

Elizabeth Gore, who was chief of staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and is now a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, told CNN that Wheeler “was very high profile, he was a driving force behind Inhofe’s very dangerous agenda to attack climate change and undermine the policies that would protect us from carbon pollution.”

Wheeler declined CNN’s request for an interview, but in a statement the EPA said in part that the activing administrator, “has made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions … that humans have an impact on the climate.” An EPA official also said, “Mr. Wheeler was deeply honored to work for Senator Inhofe in several capacities, however Mr. Wheeler did not write and was not the architect of the Senator’s climate science speeches.”

Wheeler is one of six top EPA officials who either worked directly for Inhofe or on the Senate’s Energy and Public Works Committee. Others are Wheeler’s chief of staff, his principal deputy assistant administrator, his assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, a senior adviser for policy and an associate administrator for policy. An EPA official said the staffers started working at EPA before Wheeler arrived.

Wheeler moved to the EPA’S top slot in July after then-Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign amid numerous investigations, including questions surrounding his altering of federal documents, over-spending, use of security and other numerous scandals.

Like his former boss, Wheeler is seen to be focused on reversing regulations that protect the nation’s air and water and instead promoting the wishes of the industries impacted by those regulations. Critics fear that Wheeler, who works quietly behind the scenes and knows how to get things done in Washington, is more dangerous to the nation’s health than the scandal-plagued Pruitt ever was.

Michael Gerrard, faculty director of Columbia Law School’s Climate Deregulation Tracker, which follows government deregulation, believes Wheeler will be more successful at reversing environmental protections, “because he understands the administrative and legal process better and he does not have all the craziness of Pruitt’s personal proclivities that got in the way of his effectiveness.”

From 2009 until he joined the EPA last year, Wheeler was a lobbyist for energy, mining and coal companies. Bob Murray, the powerful CEO of Murray Energy, paid Wheeler’s lobbying firm nearly $3 million to, among other things, help the coal baron get access to major decision makers, such as a meeting in March 2017 with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

When Trump was elected, Murray Energy drafted an “action plan” for the Trump administration, essentially a wish list to get the Environmental Protection Agency off the coal industry’s back.

“Not a whole lot has changed from Pruitt to Wheeler,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who has demanded the inspector general investigate Murray’s wish list and Wheeler’s ties to industry. “Now more than ever, Trump’s EPA takes its marching orders from fossil fuel and other polluting industries. While Wheeler may not try to finagle a fast food franchise for his wife, he’s no different from Pruitt when it comes to shilling for industry and pushing whatever policies they want.”

The EPA said in a statement, “Mr. Wheeler did not lobby the Trump EPA while working for Murray Energy nor did he did work on the action plan or receive a copy of the memo.”

But in the five months since Wheeler has taken over, the EPA has pulled back on regulating the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, coal plants and motor vehicles.

Gerrard told CNN, “Wheeler is carrying out a wish-list of the industry lobbyists who wanted to shut down the environmental regulations, as he himself was a lobbyist with exactly the same objective. But now he is in the driver’s seat.”

In August, the EPA published the “Affordable Clean Energy” plan, designed to replace the Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama administration’s key measure to address climate change. The new rule sets far less stringent emission guidelines.

That same month, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a proposed rule to weaken car emissions and fuel economy standards. And in September, the EPA published a proposed rule weakening methane emission standards for some oil and gas production and changing requirements on leak repairs.

At the Washington Post forum, Wheeler said the Trump administration deserves credit for a decline in carbon emissions. “In the first year of the Trump administration, we’ve seen a 2.7% reduction in CO2 from 2016 to 2017,” he said.

Asked to name three EPA policies that are contributing to cleaner air, Wheeler struggled to answer. “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give three off the top of my head,” he said. Of the three he later listed, two are proposed regulations that would dial-back back Obama-era rules that aimed to reduce pollution.

[CNN]

Trump: Roger Stone has ‘guts’ for not testifying against me

President Donald Trump on Monday praised longtime associate Roger Stone for refusing to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, as the president continues to denounce the investigation.

“‘I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out-of-control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump,'” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!'”

Stone, who has come under scrutiny in Mueller’s Russia probe for possible contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, said on Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that there’s “no circumstance in which I would testify against the president.” He has denied multiple times that he had any direct knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Stone also said Sunday that he has not discussed a pardon for himself or for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in a financial fraud trial brought by Mueller. The president told the New York Post last week that he has “never discussed” a pardon for Manfort, but “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I’ve had no discussion regarding a pardon,” Stone said over the weekend.

Trump on Twitter also continued to denounce Mueller’s investigation into whether Russia colluded with Trump’s presidential campaign, claiming without evidence that the special counsel “only wants lies.”

Stone during his Sunday interview claimed that Mueller wanted him to “bear false witness against” Trump, adding that he “would have to make things up.”

“Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats, don’t want the truth, they only want lies,” Trump tweeted Monday. “The truth is very bad for their mission!”

[Politico]

Trump: Cohen should go to prison

President Trump on Monday said Michael Cohen does not deserve leniency for cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing that his former personal lawyer should serve a “full and complete” prison sentence.

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free [sic],” Trump wrote on Twitter of Cohen. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

Trump sought to further distance himself from his onetime ally by incorrectly claiming that Cohen’s crimes were “unrelated to Trump.”

Cohen in August pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations, implicating Trump in a dramatic court hearing during which Cohen also pleaded to a slew of financial crimes stemming from his private business dealings.

Last week, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a tower in Russia, a central matter in Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The former Trump lawyer asked a federal judge to spare him prison time, in part, because he said he lied to lawmakers in order to “to support and advance [Trump’s] political messaging.” Trump was referred to in court as Individual 1.

His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Cohen’s plea has angered Trump, who is facing growing legal and political danger as a result of his former ally’s cooperation.

While he blasted Cohen for turning against him, the president encouraged other people tied up in the Mueller probe to show loyalty.

Trump praised his on-again, off-again adviser, Roger Stone, for refusing to cooperate with investigators.

“He will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” Trump wrote of Stone.

Stone has come under scrutiny for his alleged ties to WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen by Russians from Democratic officials during the 2016 campaign.

[The Hill]

Trump’s new Russia deal defense: Just business as usual

President Donald Trump’s story about his business pursuits in Russia has shifted again.

As a candidate and afterward, Trump said repeatedly that he didn’t have any business dealings with Russia.

“I have no dealings with Russia,” he said shortly before his inauguration in 2017. “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”

The truth was more complicated than Trump suggested: He had long relied on Russian investors for projects in other parts of the world, and long sought to develop real estate in Russia.

And now, with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen having pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts to develop a Trump Tower project in Moscow, the president has added a new layer to his take, arguing that it would be perfectly fine for him to have pursued the Oval Office and a high-end business opportunity in Russia at the same time.

“We were thinking about building a building,” he told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”

Prosecutors say Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress by saying that the Moscow Trump Tower project was nixed in January 2016 — before the Iowa caucuses — even though he continued to pursue it on Trump’s behalf as late as June 2016. That’s the same month that top Trump advisers took a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with Russian emissaries who had promised to provide political dirt on then-presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

There’s no law barring a candidate who doesn’t already hold office from continuing to do business during a campaign — and no requirement to disclose such activity — but veteran lawyers say Trump could have a problem if discussions over the Trump Tower project were tied to potential actions once he won the presidency.

“If additional facts show that the negotiations were part of a broader quid pro quo with Russians/oligarchs (Trump gets tower in exchange for some goodies once he is POTUS), then we are potentially into federal criminal conspiracy and campaign-law violations,” said Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and former member of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation team, in an email to NBC News.

And Trump’s evasiveness on the question of whether he was seeking business in Moscow during the election raises the question of whether he was worried about political or legal exposure, according to Joyce White Vance, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC contributor.

“Lying about it certainly raises the implication that Trump himself believed that it was somehow untoward for a candidate to have business ventures with Russia,” she said. “And there could be a variety of legal problems here — tax, emoluments, what have you — that could come back to haunt the president.”

[News]

Trump might have renominated Yellen for Fed chair if she wasn’t so… short

President Donald Trump might have reappointed Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve if only she was a few inches taller.

A Washington Post report that quoted current and former officials said Trump on multiple occasions discussed giving Yellen another term at the central bank but was concerned over her height. He feared that at 5 feet and 3 inches she just wasn’t tall enough to get the job done.

The report said he expressed his misgivings to National Economic Council members and noted that Yellen “impressed [Trump] greatly” during their interview.

There have been some tongue-in-cheek comparisons made in the past to the height of Fed chairs and their propensity to raise rates, with 6-foot-9 Paul Volcker being the most aggressive. Powell is close to 6 feet tall.

Trump has been harshly critical of the Fed as its been run under Jerome Powell, whom he chose over Yellen. The president has objected to the interest rate increases under Powell, though Yellen also presided over hikes and the beginning of the reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet.

“Look, I took recommendations. I’m not blaming anybody,” Trump told the Post, despite reports that he blames Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for recommending Powell.

[CNBC]

Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million from D.C. hotel in 2017

President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million in profit last year off her stake in the Trump International Hotel, while taking in at least $5 million from businesses connected to her personal brand, a newly released financial disclosure shows.

Ivanka Trump also reported taking in about $2 million in 2017 pay and severance from an entity called the Trump Payroll Corp., the disclosure said.

She received $289,000 in an advance for her book published last year, “Women Who Work,” and donated those funds to a charitable trust she oversees that “will make grants to organizations that empower and educate women and girls.” There was no indication that she received royalties in connection with the book in 2017.

The figures come from forms that high-ranking and highly paid federal employees are required to file every year in May.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are serving as senior advisers to the president without pay, but they have agreed to abide by ethics requirements for senior White House staff.

On Monday, as President Trump was in Singapore for the high-profile summit with North Korea‘s leader, Kim Jong Un, the White House began releasing the forms covering last year.

Ivanka Trump’s reported income from the hotel in calendar year 2017 was up substantially from a report she filed last spring showing about $2.4 million in income from the hotel since it opened in September 2016.

The forms provide only limited insight into the finances of individuals as wealthy as Ivanka Trump and Kushner. Amounts are typically reported in broad ranges. Also complicating comparisons is the fact that last year’s filings for new government staffers covered a 16-month period.

Disclosure forms filed earlier this year appeared to show an uptick in the couple’s debts as they entered the White House last year. It’s unclear whether that trend continued through the end of the year.

The president’s son-in-law’s filing no longer lists under assets or income his role with Observer Media, the New York-based online news organization he founded in 2007. Kushner reported earning $4.5 million from advertising revenue at the company in 2017 but stepped down last January when he joined the Trump White House.

In this year’s form, Kushner said he divested his ownership in Observer Media, though he also reported making between $100,001 and $1 million in capital gains. Kushner’s form says he does still own between $5,000,001 and $25,000,000 in stock shares for Source Media Holdings, a digital media company owned by Observer Capital that serves business professionals working in the financial, technology and health care sectors.

President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, reported taking in $569,423 in salary from Fox News from the beginning of last year until he joined the White House in April.

Bolton also earned nearly $750,000 in speaking fees during the same period — $115,000 for speaking to conferences sponsored by the Ukrainian steel mogul Victor Pinchuk.

Pinchuk’s donations of more than $13 million to the Clinton Foundation drew criticism and, during the 2016 campaign, were painted by many Clinton critics as evidence of corruption.

In September 2015, then-candidate Trump spoke to a Pinchuk conference in Kiev in exchange for a $150,000 donation to the Donald J. Trump foundation.

Bolton’s highest reported fee for a single speech, $100,000, came in May 2017 while receiving a Guardian of Zion award from the Rennert Center in Jerusalem. The next highest was a speech earlier that month to Deutsche Bank for $72,000, after a commission paid to his agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau.

[Politico]

Trump picks handbag designer, Mar-a-Lago member to be envoy to South Africa

President Donald Trump has nominated handbag designer Lana Marks to be the next US ambassador to South Africa.

Marks, a Florida resident and member of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a source familiar with the club, was born and raised in South Africa, where she attended the University of the Witwatersrand and the Institute of Personnel Management in Johannesburg, the White House said in a statement.

Marks is photographed and quoted giving a warm testimonial on the website of Mar-a-Lago’s official photographer, saying she had captured her daughter’s wedding at the club “in a very special way.”

Marks is known for luxury handbags in exotic animal skins, such as ostrich and alligator, with prices that can hover above $19,000. One of her more expensive creations, a $400,000 clutch, has been carried on the red carpet. The designer’s website features photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston carrying her goods and says her accessories have become a favorite among “royalty and entertainment style makers.”

Ballet and tennis

Described by the Palm Beach Daily as “like Trump, a relentless self-promoter,” Marks speaks Afrikaans and Xhosa, two of South Africa’s languages, according to the White House.

Her website chronicles an upbringing that included studying at the Royal Academy of Ballet. The concept for starting an exotic leather handbag line came, the site says, when Marks couldn’t find a bag to match the suit she planned to wear to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth. According to her Instagram accountshe attempted to qualify for the French Open tennis tournament in 1978.

Marks’ site also notes that she was appointed to the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government, which supports the Women and Public Policy Program. Both the board and the program focus on gender equality and improving lives around the world, the Harvard site says. The Harvard site notes that board members “engage philanthropically” with the policy program “through three annual giving tiers.”

Board members provide a minimum annual gift of $10,000 per individual member, $20,000 per Leadership Circle member and $25,000 per corporation.

[CNN]

Matthew Whitaker, Mueller’s New Boss, Said There Was ‘No Collusion’ With Russia

A year-and-a-half before he took responsibility for overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Matthew Whitaker, now the acting attorney general, had already reached a conclusion.

“The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign,” he said in an interview on the Wilkow Majority show. “There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues.”

“The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”

What Whitaker was basing this declaration on is unclear. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter was just three months old at the time and it has—and remains—a lock box when it comes to its findings.

But Whitaker no longer is merely just offering his analysis on the matter. On Wednesday he became the top law-enforcement officer in the nation and, with it, was given effective control of the Mueller probe. His critics—and there are many—fear he will use his leverage to either curtail or fully end the investigation. And they’ve pointed to comments like the one he made to the Wilkow Majority show as evidence that he not only brings a clear bias to his post but has pre-determined the outcome of the investigation he’s now running.

There are numerous other comments, too.

Less than two years ago, Whitaker was a former federal prosecutor and twice-failed political candidate in charge of a small conservative government watchdog group with only a handful of employees. But for conservative media audiences, he is quite familiar.

Over the past three years, he used his position as the executive director of conservative government watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) as an opportunity to become a right-leaning political pundit, penning opinion pieces in USA Today and the Washington Examiner, and appearing regularly across conservative talk-radio shows and cable news.

The majority of Whitaker’s media appearances focused on the promotion of one argument: Liberals in government are working to undermine Americans in a variety of troubling and unproven ways. And no one is a bigger threat than Mueller.

Before joining the DOJ, Whitaker was one of the biggest critics of Mueller’s probe, dubbing it “political” and criticizing its mere existence in numerous media appearances.

During interviews with right-wing radio hosts over the last two years, Whitaker admonished Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for appointing Muller last year, characterizing the probe as a drain on department resources, and suggesting the special counsel’s allies were leaking information designed to make him “look productive and on top of things.”

He expressed sympathy for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation, and in one interview last year, Whitaker said that “the real Russian ties were with Hillary Clinton.”

Prior to becoming a legal pundit, Whitaker worked as a U.S. Attorney in the George W. Bush administration. After that, he ran a series of businesses and an unsuccessful primary bid in 2014 for the Iowa Senate seat. Whitaker was also on the advisory board of a patent company that ripped off its customers for millions of dollars.

When he became the head of FACT in 2014, his media presence truly began to grow. Whitaker used that post to rack up countless talk radio hits across the country attacking Democrats. But while FACT billed itself as a nonpartisan watchdog, it served as a way to launder partisan opposition research to the public.

In 2016, according to public records, Whitaker helmed the group. The company paid $180,000 that year to America Rising LLC, an opposition research firm closely aligned with the Republican Party.

In press releases reviewed by The Daily Beast, America Rising touted FACT as a non-partisan government watchdog and highlighted Whitaker’s political commentary criticizing Democrats. A person familiar with the FACT/America Rising arrangement told The Daily Beast that on some occasions, America Rising’s opposition researchers would share material targeting Democratic candidates with FACT.

FACT would then file ethics complaints based on that research and publicly denounce the Democrats in question. America Rising, subsequently, would promote FACT’s denunciations to reporters as evidence that the Democrats in question were facing non-partisan criticism.

FACT has also criticized some Republicans, including Reps. Mark Meadows and Robert Pittenger. Joe Pounder, who heads America Rising, declined to comment on the group’s work with FACT.

“FACT is a non-partisan ethics watchdog which holds accountable government officials from both parties, as well as associated political campaigns and organizations,” a spokesperson for FACT said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Since 2014, FACT has filed over 80 complaints, over 60 of which were filed under Mr. Whitaker’s leadership. Mr. Whitaker served as Executive Director of FACT from 2014 to 2017. During his tenure, Mr. Whitaker conducted numerous media interviews analyzing government ethics issues and investigations including his time as a paid contributor to CNN.”

In many ways, Whitaker is the textbook Trump-era political talking head.

He spent most of his interviews arguing that Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and that the FBI was providing “political cover” to the former secretary of state for “not releasing probably very damaging emails.”

He also criticized her political positions, calling her 2016 campaign platform a “grab-bag of failed and regurgitated liberal policies,” and lamented that “since she fell out of the public eye, it has not been as much fun” to conduct investigations into politicians.

Whitaker continued to provide Republicans with political cover after Trump won office in 2016, even pushing a conspiracy theory that suggested a Democratic House IT staffer, not Russian hackers, could have been behind the theft of Democratic emails in 2016.

Whitaker leveraged his position at FACT to draw attention to the case of Imran Awan, a former IT staffer for House Democrats who was charged with bank fraud in 2017.

Awan’s arrest drew plenty of attention from conservative media outlets, which spun elaborate theories speculating that Awan was either involved in nefarious activity with his Democratic bosses, spying on Democrats for a foreign intelligence agency, or even behind the hack of Democratic emails stolen by Russia.

Despite pressure from conservatives, the Awan case was ultimately a letdown for the right. Awan pleaded guilty only to lying on a bank fraud application and avoided a prison sentence. Prosecutors on the case even took the unusual step of saying in court documents that they had investigated the conspiracy theories alleging that Awan was behind any email leaks and found no evidence for them.

At the height of conservative interest in the Awan investigation, Whitaker and FACT called for an ethics investigation into the relationship between Awan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), one of Awan’s employers.

In an August 2017 radio interview, Whitaker implied there could be a link between Awan and the Russian email hack that cost Wasserman Schultz her position as head of the Democratic National Committee.

“Whether it’s related and part of a bigger theme, that’s what we have to see,” Whitaker said.

In the same interview, Whitaker complained that the Awan case wasn’t getting as much attention from the media as the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

“If it was Russia and Trump, there’d be a 24-hour news vigil,” Whitaker said.

[The Daily Beast]

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