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]

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Dedicates 2 Miles of Donald Trump’s ‘Border Wall’ With Fencing

On Friday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen dedicated a newly completed replacement section of border fence in Calexio, California. The fences and barriers have existed for years, but recently received routine scheduled maintenance and upgrades.

However the DHS Secretary spun a different tale of what the invited and gathered media looked at.

According to Nielsen, the open bollard style fence constitutes a wall. And not just a wall, but the border wall from President Donald Trump’s campaign and rally promises.

But yeah, that’s a fence.

The President specified in his campaign that a wall would be built, not a fence. And when reporters asked about the fence, Nielsen reiterated the fence was a wall.

When asked if the 30-foot tall fence of steel bollards was a fence, Nielsen said:

“It’s different than a fence in that it also has technology. It’s a full wall system. It’s a wall, this is what the president has asked us to do. It’s part of a system.”

But the prior fence that Trump deemed inadequate also utilized additional technology beyond just fencing. However the new fence is taller.

The Trump administration contracted for and tested eight border wall prototypes at a reported cost of $20 million. However all of the prototypes failed in testing.

Back in March, Trump tweeted that old photos of another section of replacement fence was his wall under construction, but was quickly corrected. This time Nielsen faces the brunt of the pushback over passing a fence off as a wall.

During the presidential campaign and subsequent rallies, Trump promised a “big, beautiful wall” that would definitely not be a fence. He also promised Mexico would pay for it.

Neither campaign promise came to fruition yet.

But despite the obvious fence visible in the background, Nielsen persisted in talking about the first section of Trump’s border wall being completed. And workers even welded a plaque to the fence to commemorate the event which was livestreamed.

[Second Nexus]

Trump Campaign Sends Out Anti-CNN Fundraising Email Shortly After Bomb Scare

Hours after CNN’s New York headquarters were evacuated when an explosive device was found mailed to the building, President Donald Trump‘s campaign sent out a fundraising email blasting the network.

Reporter Yashar Ali tweeted out a screenshot of the fundraising email, signed by Lara Trump, which included a “Media Accountability Survey.”

“It’s time for us to give the media another wake-up call from the American people,” the email says.

The first question of the survey is: “Do you trust the mainstream media to put the interests of Americans first?”

[Mediaite]

Trump admin official displayed a portrait of the KKK’s first grand wizard because he thought it was ‘nice’

A senior Veterans Affairs official displayed a portrait of Confederate general and KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest prominently in his taxpayer-funded office — and claimed he didn’t know about the figure’s sordid past.

The Washington Post reported that David J. Thomas Sr., the deputy executive director of VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, had the portrait hanging with a spotlight on it in his office until he was informed of Forrest’s history.

“It was just a beautiful print that I had purchased, and I thought it was very nice,” Thomas said, noting that he thought of Forrest “as a southern general in the Civil War” and nothing more.

He claimed that the portrait titled “No Surrender” had been languishing in his basement until he moved to a larger office a few months ago. Michelle Gardner-Ince, a manager who reports to the deputy executive director, disputed his account and said it was in his previous office since at least 2015.

“Racial tensions have flared between Thomas and several of his employees, at least three of whom have pending claims of racial discrimination against him,” the report noted. “An attorney representing two of these employees said the portrait is evidence that Thomas is not comfortable around African Americans.”

Gardner-Ince, a program manager who has a pending case against Thomas before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was the person directed to install the spotlight onto the portrait.

None of the employees with pending cases against Thomas recognized the significance of the Forrest portrait until last week, the report noted, when a union steward recognized the first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard depicted in it and was “aghast.”

The local VA chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees has since circulated a petition demanding the portrait’s removal to present to Secretary Robert Wilkie. Although it was taken down, AFGE Local 17 president Douglas Massey told the Post that Thomas’ claim to not know about Forrest’s history was “hard to believe.”

The report also noted that nine of the 14 managers who report to Thomas are black.

[Raw Story]

Inspector general: Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for his wife

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated department travel policies by bringing his family members in government-owned vehicles, the agency’s internal watchdog concluded on Thursday.

The Interior Department’s inspector general (OIG) found in a new report that Zinke and his wife Lolita brought a Park Police security detail on a vacation, costing more than $25,000, though there was no policy prohibiting it.

Despite a policy stating that people not engaged in government business cannot ride in Interior vehicles, “we found that Secretary Zinke’s wife and other family members had occasionally ridden with him in government vehicles,” OIG investigators said in a their report late Thursday.

The report said that despite the prohibition, the Interior solicitor’s office approved Zinke’s family’s travel “on a case-by-case basis.”

OIG investigators also found that Zinke had asked Interior employees to designate Lolita Zinke as a volunteer for the agency, which would allow her to travel in official vehicles without approval or reimbursement.

Zinke decided against the appointment due to the “optics,” but denied that it was to get around travel rules, OIG said.

The OIG report came the same day that Interior denied that the Trump administration planned to install a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the inspector general’s office. HUD Secretary Ben Carson had previously said that the appointee, Suzanne Israel Tufts, would be the new acting inspector general at Interior, which would effectively demote Mary Kendall, the current highest-ranking employee in the watchdog office.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift framed the Thursday report as an exoneration.

“The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel,” she said.

“Additionally, the secretary received the same exact legal advice from the solicitors as previous secretaries and he acted consistently. The report even said so.”

After investigators started looking into the issue, Interior changed the travel policy to allow family members on official trips.

In the four official trips that investigators probed, Lolita Zinke and another family member reimbursed Interior for the costs of her travel.

Interior said an unidentified person in the solicitor’s office approved the family travel, despite knowing that internal policies prohibited it.

“She explained that other DOI employees could use personal vehicles for government travel, but because Secretary Zinke had a security detail that used government vehicles, he did not have that option. She said she generally deferred to a secretary’s security detail to decide who should be allowed in the vehicles,” the report said, paraphrasing the solicitor’s office employee.

In addition, Zinke brought a number of non-government travelers on a National Park Service boat for a trip to California’s Channel Islands. Interior designated them as “stakeholders,” meaning they did not have to reimburse the agency for travel.

Two of those travelers had hosted a fundraiser for Zinke’s congressional campaign in 2014, and the family of one used to own property on one of the Channel Islands, investigators said, facts that ethics officials were not aware of prior to the trip.

[The Hill]

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