Israel invested in “Mideast peace” Trump adviser Jared Kushner

A new report indicates that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner holds a series of strong and shady financial ties to Israel, even as the administration insists he serves as a legitimate broker for potential peace efforts in the Middle East.

His family real estate business, Kushner Companies, received a $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of the largest financial institutions in Israel, The New York Times reported. The deal was private and took place shortly before Kushner and Trump visited Israel in May on their first diplomatic trip.

The deal “pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm,” the Times reported. Despite the fact that Kushner sold parts of his business upon taking a job in the White House, he still holds a significant share in his family’s company, which include the Baltimore-area apartment buildings.

But the Menora deal only scratches the surface of Kushner’s financial conflicts of interests in the region that make the prospect of a fair solution seem bleak at the absolute best.

“The ethics laws were not crafted by people who had the foresight to imagine a Donald Trump or a Jared Kushner, Robert Weissman, the president of the nonprofit government ethics group, Public Citizen, told the Times. “No one could ever imagine this scale of ongoing business interests, not in a local peanut farm or a hardware store but sprawling global businesses that give the president and his top adviser personal economic stakes in an astounding number of policy interests.”

The Trump administration has defended itself, with a White House official saying Kushner “takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration,” the Times reported.

Kushner’s disclosure forms had “100 errors and omissions and multiple updates,” Newsweek reported in October.

Kushner’s family foundation also continues to donate heavily to a group that constructs the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a group largely seen as “one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution,” ProPublica reported.

The Kushners have also engaged in real estate deals with “at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey.” Beny Steinmetz, the most well-known member of the family, is the subject of a bribery investigation by the Justice Department, the Times reported.

“A lot of people wonder whether the United States has ever been an honest broker in the Middle East, and given the positions of the Trump administration, it’s probably even more vulnerable to those claims,” Richard W. Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for the Bush administration told the Times. Using Kushner, the U.S. is “sending over a special envoy who has already identified himself personally more with the hawkish views,” he added.
“He [Kushner] is getting money from wealthy citizens and businesses in one particular country,” Painter said. “You’ve got a situation that is going to be abused by people who don’t like the United States. He’s going to make it that much worse.”

The Kushner family ties to Israel obviously run quite deep, and it’s difficult to imagine the president’s son-in-law as a fair and unbiased broker of a solution for peace in the Middle East — especially with zero prior experience of diplomatic work. Trump has received international condemnation for his brash decision, which has only further stoked tensions with the Palestinians, as well as isolated the U.S. and Israel.


Kushner Used Private Email For White House Work

President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has used a private email account to communicate with other officials in the administration about White House business, according to Politico. 

Kushner has used the email to talk about various topics — including media planning and event coverage — with figures such as former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Stephen Bannon and President Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Kushner set up the account during the transition period after he campaigned for Trump, who frequently attacked former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her user of a private email server while she was secretary of State.

“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell told Politico in a statement.

“Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

The report comes as special counsel Robert Mueller continues to probe alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

Kushner has been seen as a person of interest by Mueller.

The Washington Post reported in May that Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. had discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.

It was reported in June that Kushner was present at a Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016 with a Russian lawyer that was organized by Donald Trump Jr. after he was told the lawyer could provide damaging information on Clinton.

[The Hill]

Scaramucci Asks FBI to Investigate Priebus For “Leaking” a Public Disclosure Form

In baffling tweet on Wednesday night, White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci appeared to accuse Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking his financial disclosure form.

The tweet came after a Politico report revealed Scaramucci will still benefit from his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, while at the White House. Along with his accusation, Scaramucci vowed to have the FBI and DOJ (two entities his principal, Donald Trump, has repeatedly berated) investigate what he described as a “felonious” leak. Scaramucci tagged @Reince45 in the post, which generated ample confusion until the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza clarified that the communications director did indeed mean he wants the FBI and DOJ to investigate Priebus over the matter.

The Department of Justice even chimed in, insisting it will look in to Scaramucci’s request:

Financial disclosure forms are public documents, and are eventually made available online via the White House website

[Raw Story]

Sessions Discussed Trump Campaign-Related Matters with Russian Ambassador, U.S. Intelligence Intercepts Show

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.

Current and former U.S. officials said that that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations in two encounters during the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions as his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous.

Trump, in an interview this week, expressed frustration with Sessions’s recusing himself from the Russia probe and indicated regret at making the lawmaker from Alabama the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump also faulted Sessions as giving “bad answers” during his confirmation hearing about his Russia contacts during the campaign.

Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and they acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.

“Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” said a Justice Department spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, in a statement. She reasserted that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.

Russian and other foreign diplomats in Washington and elsewhere have been known, at times, to report false or misleading information to bolster their standing with their superiors or to confuse U.S. intelligence agencies.

But U.S. officials with regular access to Russian intelligence reports say Kislyak — whose tenure as ambassador to the United States ended recently — was known for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington.

Sessions removed himself from direct involvement in the Russia investigation after it was revealed in The Washington Post that he had met with Kislyak at least twice in 2016, contacts he failed to disclose during his confirmation hearing in January.

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said when asked whether anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with representatives of the Russian government.

He has since maintained that he misunderstood the scope of the question and that his meetings with Kislyak were strictly in his capacity as a U.S. senator. In a March appearance on Fox television, Sessions said, “I don’t recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way.”

Sessions appeared to narrow that assertion further in extensive testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, saying that he “never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”

But when pressed for details during that hearing, Sessions qualified many of his answers by saying that he could “not recall” or did not have “any recollection.”

[Washington Post]

Trump Defends Trump Jr.: ‘I Applaud His Transparency’

President Trump on Tuesday praised his son, Donald Trump Jr., who is under fire for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information about Trump’s Democratic rival in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton.

“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” Trump said in a brief statement, which White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders read to reporters during an off-camera briefing.

Trump had previously remained silent on the growing controversy surrounding the meeting at the height of the campaign, which became public Saturday.

The revelation has shaken the White House, which for months has struggled to contain the fallout from a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s election-meddling effort in 2016.

Sanders acknowledged that, “the president is, I would say, frustrated with the process of the fact that this continues to be an issue.”

“He would love for us to be focused on things like … the economy, on healthcare, on tax reform, on infrastructure and that’s the place that his mind is and that’s what he’d like to be discussing,” she said.

Sanders, however, did not dispute stunning new emails disclosed by Trump Jr. Tuesday detailing efforts to set up the meeting.

She was peppered with questions about the stunning disclosure during the 21-minute briefing, repeatedly referring reporters to attorneys representing the president and his eldest son.

The lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sanders did engage some questions about the meeting, saying it’s “ridiculous” to use the words “treason” or “perjury” to describe Trump Jr.’s behavior, as some critics have alleged.

The spokesman stood by her Monday claim that Trump Jr. did not collude with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

She said she was not able to say the last time the president spoke with his son and refused to say whether Trump now believes Russia interfered with last year’s election.

Sanders also denied that Vice President Pence was trying to distance himself from the Trump Jr. controversy by putting out a statement saying he is “not focused on stories about the campaign… especially those about the time he joined the ticket.”

“There is absolutely no distance between the president and the vice president,” she said.

Michael Flynn was fired in February as national security adviser in large part because he misrepresented his conversation with Russia’s U.S. ambassador to Pence. The vice president went on television and denied Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, even though he did.

[The Hill]


Donald Trump Jr. didn’t release the emails out of some altruistic sense of transparency, the New York Times obtained the emails and asked him for a comment from him before releasing them to the public.

Trump Jr. never responded to the request, and instead released the emails, most likely in a self-server move to get out in front of the story.

If it really was about transparency, Trump Jr. would have released the emails months before the New York Times broke this story.

Trump Administration Keeping Senate Torture Report From Public

The CIA, CIA inspector general and director of national intelligence will return their copies of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s massive 6,700-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program under the George W. Bush administration, a Senate aide confirmed to CNN on Friday.

The decision means it’s highly unlikely the report — which concluded that interrogation techniques such as waterboarding did not elicit useful intelligence from detainees — will be made public so long as Republicans control the Senate and the White House. Democrats are concerned it will never see the light of day if the copies are destroyed.

The report, written under then-intelligence chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein when Democrats controlled the Senate, has remained classified, except for an executive summary that was released when the report was completed in 2014. The report concluded that interrogation techniques such as waterboarding did not elicit useful intelligence from detainees.

The Senate report was sent to federal agencies in the hope that it could eventually be made public, but committee chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, has asked the administration to return the copies to the Senate.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the report was a congressional record, which is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which Burr said was why he has asked that the agencies return the documents.

“I have directed my staff to retrieve copies of the congressional study that remain with the Executive Branch agencies and, as the committee does with all classified and compartmented information, will enact the necessary measures to protect the sensitive sources and methods contained within the report,” Burr said in a statement.

Republicans have criticized the report as unfairly targeting the CIA and ignoring the intelligence gained under the interrogation program.

The administration’s decision to return the reports to the Senate was first reported by The New York Times.

The intelligence panel’s Democrats slammed the Trump administration for giving the copies back, and Burr for making the demand they be returned.

Sen. Mark Warner, top Democrat on the committee, said he was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“This study must be preserved for history, and the Senate intelligence committee will continue to conduct vigorous oversight of our nation’s intelligence agencies to ensure that they abide by both the spirit and the letter of the law that bans the practices outlined in the report,” he said in a statement.

Feinstein called Burr’s move “divisive” and claimed Democrats on the committee had not been notified or consulted.

“No senator — chairman or not — has the authority to erase history,” the California Democrat said. “I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case.”

And Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon accused Burr and the Trump administration of seeking to “pave the way for the kind of falsehoods used to justify an illegal and dangerous torture program.”

“For the sake of future generations of Americans, this report should be immediately returned to the government agencies who gave it up, disseminated widely within the government and most importantly, declassified for the American people,” Wyden said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued to make the full report public, but its case was dismissed.

“It would be a travesty for agencies to return the CIA torture report instead of reading and learning from it, as senators intended,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

The committee sent the report to seven federal agencies: the CIA, CIA inspector general, FBI, director of national intelligence and the Justice, State and Defense Departments.
But even if all those copies are returned to the committee, there is another way the report could eventually be made public.

When President Barack Obama was still in office, the White House felt it was caught between congressional Democrats who wanted the full report made public and the CIA and intelligence community that felt strongly against it, according to a former administration official.

But in December, the White House declared the document a presidential record, which means it’s part of the Obama presidential record, which remains classified for 12 years.
“It doesn’t mean it will be automatically declassified after 12 years, but at least in this case, a copy will be preserved,” the official said.


Trump White House Grants Waivers of Ethics Rules

President Donald Trump’s executive order on ethics has been waived at least 11 times since the administration came into office in January, according to records the White House posted online Wednesday night.

The waivers allow White House staffers to work on matters that could affect their former employers or clients or involve issues from which the aides would be normally be excluded because of past lobbying work.

About a week after taking office, Trump signed an executive order restricting the role of lobbyists in his administration and limiting the work government employees could do relating to former clients and former employers. However, the newly disclosed waivers show how often the White House has set those rules aside in order to allow key staffers to oversee issues they worked on in the private sector.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway received a waiver that allows her to take part in “communications and meetings involving former clients which are political, advocacy, trade, or non-profit organizations,” the White House said. Conway’s polling firm, The Polling Company/WomanTrend had a variety of clients including the American Conservative Union, Catholic University, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

Several waivers were broad in scope, but appear to affect some of the highest-profile White House aides. An undated waiver issued by White House Counsel Don McGahn allows White House aides to interact with news organizations despite prior ties the officials might have to those outlets.

Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon was executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart before joining the Trump campaign last year. Under the waiver, he is free to engage with Breitbart even when some news organizations are excluded.

“The Administration has an interest in interacting with news organizations on issues of importance to the Administration. It is important that all appointees be able to communicate and meet with news organizations, and disqualification from such meetings or communications would limit the ability of the White House Office to effectively carry out Administration priorities,” McGahn wrote.

The media-focused waiver doesn’t allow officials who formerly worked at news organizations to become involved in business disputes or any government actions related to the companies.

Four former lobbyists were also granted waivers of provisions in a Trump executive order that would typically preclude ex-lobbyists for two years from doing government work in the subject area on which they previously lobbied.

The White House waived the rule for Trump energy policy adviser Michael Catanzaro, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. He was given approval to work on “energy and environmental policy issues” including the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States rule and other environmental regulations.

Tax policy adviser Shahira Knight, a former Fidelity executive, was approved to deal with tax, retirement and financial services issues even though she’d previously lobbied on those topics.

“The National Economic Council has been tasked with addressing issues relating to tax, retirement and financial services. The Administration has an interest in you working on matters in those areas due to your expertise and prior experience,” the waiver reads.

White House economic aide Andrew Olmem was cleared to work on a variety of finance-related issues despite his lobbying for several big insurance companies and banks.

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Joshua Pitcock, also got a waiver. He’d worked as a lobbyist for the state of Indiana on various issues, but was given approval to deal with Indiana state officials in his current job and to work on issues he’d lobbied on for the state, including refugee policy, opioid abuse, trade and education policy and wide variety of other areas.

Six lawyers of the Jones Day law firm, including McGahn, were granted approval to take part in meetings with their former Jones Day colleagues relating to the firm’s ongoing legal representation of Trump, his campaign and related entities.

A White House spokesman stressed the “limited number” of waivers granted.

“The White House has voluntarily released the ethics waivers as part of the President’s commitment to the American people to be transparent,” the statement said. “The White House Counsel’s Office worked closely with all White House officials to avoid conflicts arising from their former places of employment or investment holdings. To the furthest extent possible, counsel worked with each staffer to recuse from conflicting conduct rather than being granted waivers, which has led to the limited number of waivers being issued.”

However, ethics watchdogs were quick to jump on the Trump team for ignoring its own rules.

“The ethics waivers the White House finally released reveal what we already suspected: that this administration is chock full of senior officials working on issues on which they lobbied, meeting with companies in which they have a financial interest, or working closely with former employers,” said Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Bookbinder added: “No one has believed for months that this president or his administration had any interest in ethics, but these waivers make clear the remarkable extent to which they are comfortable mixing their own personal interests with the country’s. It’s no wonder they waited for the cover of night to release them.”

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said that the waivers showed that “for the Trump White House, even its own, highly touted ethics rules are no more than an inconvenience to be waived aside if they interfere with corporate business as usual.”

He said the waivers “vastly exceed the number issued in the early months of the Obama administration and — more importantly — authorize conflicts not permitted in the Obama administration, signify both the corporate takeover of the government and the Trump administration’s utter disregard for ethical standards.”

The complete number of waivers across the entire administration is not yet known because the data released by the White House on Wednesday included only staffers in the Executive Office of the President and the Vice President’s office.

Until last week, Trump aides had been largely noncommittal about releasing the waivers, particularly for White House staffers, although the documents were posted online under President Barack Obama. Trump’s team did say it would disclose waivers of a federal conflict of interest law, but staffers evaded questions about how those records could be requested.

Last month, the Office of Government Ethics said it was launching a “data call” for all ethics and conflict of interest waivers from all agencies including the White House. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney initially raised legal questions about the ethics office’s authority to gather the data, but last week the White House said the administration would comply with the request.


White House, Ethics Office Feud Escalates

An escalating feud between the White House and the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has boiled over, with the Trump administration refusing to produce waivers it has granted to lobbyists that allow them to work in government agencies.

Walter Shaub, the office’s director, wants to review the waivers and make them public to ensure the Trump administration is adhering to publicly stated policies and an executive order signed by the president.

That would bring the Trump administration in line with practices followed under former President Barack Obama, who appointed Shaub to his current role.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is refusing to turn over the waivers. He wants time to consult with the Justice Department about the scope of Shaub’s authority.

In a letter to Shaub, which Mulvaney distributed widely throughout the government, the budget director called the request burdensome and questioned whether the OGE had the power to obtain the waivers. Republicans have in the past bristled at Shaub’s tactics and believe he is politicizing his office.

Shaub went public on Monday with the administration’s refusal to turn the waivers over.

In a blistering 10-page letter sent to Congress and Mulvaney — and subsequently tweeted out through the official OGE account — Shaub told Mulvaney that he has the authority to “institute corrective action proceedings” against individuals who “improperly prevent” ethics officials from doing their jobs.

“OGE declines your request to suspend its ethics inquiry and reiterates its expectation that agencies will fully comply with its directive by June 1, 2017,” Shaub wrote. “Public confidence in the integrity of government decision-making demands no less.”

It’s just the latest fight between the Trump administration and Shaub, whose five-year term will end early next year if he is not fired or doesn’t resign first.

Shortly after the election, Shaub used his office’s Twitter account to urge then-President-elect Donald Trump to divest himself from his business holdings. The tweets were written in Trump’s vernacular and viewed as mocking by many Republicans.

In January, after Trump announced he would hand his business empire over to his adult sons, Shaub publicly rebuked the president at a Washington forum for not putting his assets in a blind trust.

And in February, Shaub recommended disciplinary action for White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway after she urged viewers to buy first daughter Ivanka Trump’s products during a television interview from the briefing room.

Republicans say Shaub is politicizing his position to make a name for himself as part of the Trump “resistance.”

“Walter Shaub has acted like a partisan candidate for office and not like the director of a government ethics office,” said conservative lawyer Charlie Spies. “He’s brought discredit to what the office does through totally inappropriate tweets and press conferences and clear bias against the Trump administration.

“There may be legitimate issues that need to be addressed, but those are totally overshadowed by Shaub’s grandstanding.”

Trump signed an executive order in January that indicated the new administration would follow practices established during the Obama administration. Lobbyists hired into the government would be prohibited from working with former clients or on issues they had been involved with unless they received a waiver.

The Trump administration’s refusal to comply with the request has raised suspicions among government watchdogs over how many waivers the Trump administration is handing out and to whom.

Democrats in Congress have said they’ll seek the waivers directly if the Trump administration doesn’t turn them over. Government watchdog groups are suing for the records.

Legal and ethics experts interviewed by The Hill were flabbergasted that the administration would break with precedent by refusing to comply with the request for the documents.

“The Trump administration is going to lose this fight,” said Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush. “The Office of Government Ethics is not a political agency and Walter Shaub is not a political guy. Picking a fight with the OGE is the dumbest thing the administration can do at this juncture. Just give them the stupid waivers.”

Even some of Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are standing with Shaub.

In 2009, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a letter to the OGE asking the Obama administration to “live up to its word” by being “open, transparent and accountable” about the government employees that received waivers.

“Senator Grassley stands by his letter from 2009 calling for greater government transparency of ethics waivers, and is grateful to see that, eight years later, the Office of Government Ethics now explicitly agrees with his assessment of its authority,” a Grassley spokesperson told The Hill. “He’s also been exploring the matter with Democrat colleagues in the last few weeks, and welcomes their newfound interest in improving this transparency.”

The controversy has raised questions about Shaub’s future eight months before his term ends.

The administration is frustrated by what it views as lifelong bureaucrats within the government that refuse to accept the legitimacy of the new regime.

Trump has already fired FBI Director James Comey and acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

And in a television appearance earlier this year, Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, warned Shaub to “be careful.”

Still, firing an ethics watchdog who is ostensibly fighting for greater transparency could backfire at a time when Trump is dealing with blowback for firing Comey, who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

“The outcry would be tremendous, and it would only raise further questions about what they’re hiding,” said Larry Noble, senior director at the Campaign Legal Center. “You can’t just keep firing everyone for looking into what you’re doing.”

[The Hill]

A Top Mar-A-Lago Employee Is Quietly Doing Government Work For Trump’s Foreign Trip

A top Mar-a-Lago employee is also working for the government to help prepare for President Trump’s visit to Taormina, Italy, for the G-7 Summit — an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between the president’s business empire and the White House.

Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at Trump’s “Winter White House,” is working with the president’s advance and logistics team, while Trump’s exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone, two sources familiar with Rinkus’s trip told BuzzFeed News.

An administration source confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that Rinkus was officially listed as an advance associate for the Taormina leg of the trip and had government-issued blackberry and email.

She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife’s access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company, BuzzFeed News previously detailed.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization returned multiple requests for comment. They also did not answer a list of questions regarding Heather Rinkus’s role, including who is paying for her government work — taxpayers or Mar-a-Lago — or if Rinkus had resigned from Mar-a-Lago. (Asked about Heather Rinkus, a Mar-a-Lago employee, who answered the main phone line at the club, said Rinkus was traveling abroad for two to three weeks and would be back afterward.)

Heather Rinkus, who has no prior government experience, also did not respond to requests for comment on her role by phone or through her White House or personal email accounts.

Her dual role is the latest example of how closely intertwined the president’s inner circle is between his business and government, despite Trump’s claims of a firewall.

It also raises questions of whether other Trump Organization employees are quietly employed by the White House, as the administration struggles to staff up amid a chaotic few weeks. Trump, who likes to be surrounded by aides who are loyal to him, has already brought in senior adviser Hope Hicks, his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, and his social media director Dan Scavino from the Trump Organization.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to inquiries about how much overlap in terms of employees exists between the two.

Heather Rinkus’s new role also provides more evidence of the family’s closeness to the administration, as her husband tries to use that access for personal gain.

Ari Rinkus, who is still on probation for pleading guilty to wire fraud as part of a Ponzi scheme, has told a foreign company, Securablinds, he can use Heather’s access to the president to secure government and Trump Organization contracts, BuzzFeed News previously reported.

Gavin Richardson, the CEO of UK-based Securablinds, contacted BuzzFeed News after reading the story and said Rinkus presented himself to the company’s executives as “well-connected with the Trump family,” claiming he could get a contract for the company to put its blinds in Trump Tower.

“He told us he discussed it with Eric Trump,” he said, referring to one of Trump’s sons.

Richardson said they were unaware of Rinkus’s criminal history because he went by “Ari Rink.” “I feel like we’re the victims really… He came across as credible because he talked about the Trump Organization.”

Rinkus told the Securablinds executives, Richardson said, that Heather Rinkus worked for the Trump Organization and that he had “passed (Securablinds’ information) on to different individuals in the Trump Organization” through her.

“Someone who has access to the Trump family would have been quite effective to us,” Richardson said, adding he terminated his involvement with Rinkus after reading BuzzFeed News’ story about his background.

Ari Rinkus pleaded guilty in 2006 to conducting a criminal enterprise — specifically, the “illegal possession and resale of stolen motor vehicles,” in Michigan, and in 2011, he again pleaded guilty in federal court to felony wire fraud for a Ponzi scheme. He was released from prison in 2014. He did not respond to requests for comment for this story either.

Heather Rinkus started working for Mar-a-Lago in 2015. She had previously worked for the Amway Hotel Corporation, which is owned by the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, as a front desk supervisor and later as a nanny.


Trump Lawyer Asked to Submit Financial Disclosure Without His Signature

President Trump allegedly sought to submit federal ethics forms that detail his wealth without signing them, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Trump’s lawyer, Sheri Dillon, reportedly told the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) that he should not have to sign the financial disclosure report because he was submitting it voluntarily, an accounting of letters obtained by the outlet. The signature verifies that the forms are accurate.

The head of the ethics agency, Walter Shaub, responded that he would not accept the forms without Trump’s signature, a standard part of the reporting process.

The OGE would process the forms, Shaub wrote in a letter earlier this month, “on the condition that the President is committed to certifying that the contents of his report are true, complete and correct. … When we met on April 27, 2017, you requested that he be excused from providing this certification.”

The Associated Press received the correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Following the report, a person with familiar with the matter told The Hill that Trump’s lawyer had asked if the trustees of Trump’s revokable trust should be the ones signing the documents “given that the president is prevented from having direct, contemporaneous knowledge about the changes in the compensation and values of the assets and liabilities contained in the trust.”

Wealthy officials and lawmakers often put their assets into trusts and sign the disclosures because they are making a good faith verification that the forms are correct to the best of their knowledge, even if they aren’t aware of the actual values.

Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump Organization chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, manage the trust. Trump is still fairly close to the trust, according to a New York Times review in February, and still gets reports about profits or losses as a whole. He can also remove the trustees at any time.

Trump has resisted calls to set up a blind trust for his assets, saying that he is not required by law to do so.

The OGE is an independent agency that, among other things, writes guidance on ethics rules for the executive branch and collects the personal financial disclosures from officials.

The financial reports are required for many senior officials, but the commander in chief is not obligated to submit one. Previous presidents, however, have opted to file them annually.

“Refusing to sign your OGE financial disclosure form is like refusing to take the oath before testimony,” Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, tweeted on Friday.

Painter has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration and its ethics policies.

Earlier this week, the White House announced that Trump would voluntarily submit a disclosure report “in due time,” which confirmed another AP story.

The reports do not offer a specific evaluation of wealth for government officials, instead placing assets and liabilities in broad ranges. For example, one category offers a range of $1 million to $5 million.

Over the last 40 years, presidents have also routinely disclosed their tax filings, something Trump has as yet declined to do. At one point during the presidential campaign, he said that he would “absolutely” release the returns.

“I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd in January. “Absolutely.”

By the following month, he started backtracking on releasing the returns, saying that the IRS was auditing him and that the reports would reveal no relevant information.

Tax returns “have [zero] to do w/ someone’s net worth,” Trump tweeted on Feb. 25. He had already released financial disclosures required for presidential candidates, which he said are “great.”

The tax returns would provide more information about Trump’s sources of income, his charitable giving and how much taxes he has paid, among other things.

[The Hill]

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