Trump administration refuses to release all available aid to Puerto Rico despite earthquakes

The Trump administration is refusing to release all available disaster aid to Puerto Rico despite this week’s earthquakes, citing concerns about “corruption” and “financial mismanagement” on the island, the Daily News has learned.

President Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development was supposed to start disbursing $9.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico in September as part of a congressional allocation to beef up natural disaster readiness following the devastating hurricanes that battered the island in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.

But HUD has to date only released about $1.5 billion of those funds, and a senior agency official said Thursday that the remainder of the relief cash won’t be released anytime soon despite a string of earthquakes that rocked the island this week and left thousands of residents without power.

“Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption and other abuses, we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most: the people of Puerto Rico,” the HUD official told The News, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations.

The official did not give a timeline for when the aid will be released and downplayed the island’s need for more assistance.

“Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million — less than 1% of those funds,” the official said.

Congressional Democrats were outraged and said the Trump administration is breaking the law by withholding the congressionally approved money.

“The ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a Thursday press conference.

Queens-Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said HUD’s own inspector general recently concluded there’s nothing to suggest the island can’t properly manage the aid.

She also said it isn’t HUD’s prerogative to block the funds, as they were approved by Congress.

“The real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump’s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering,” Velazquez told The News.

Velazquez joined Queens-Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in sending a letter earlier this week to HUD Secretary Ben Carson demanding the outstanding $8.3 billion be released to Puerto Rico immediately, arguing the island needs whatever assistance it can get in the wake of the earthquakes.

Schumer said Carson had not responded as of Thursday and reiterated a call for the administration to end its “counterproductive vendetta” with Puerto Rico.

“As opposed to erecting hurdles to recovery, the administration should be clearing a path, righting past wrongs and delivering the support our fellow American citizens so clearly need,” he said.

At least one person has died since a magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Several major aftershocks have followed, destroying homes and leaving two-thirds of the island without electricity.

Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico earlier this week, opening up about $5 million in federal funds to be spent on emergency services in light of the earthquake.

But Democrats say that’s not close to enough and urged the administration to stop withholding the hurricane relief cash that was supposed to be released months ago.

“Holding these resources back means delaying the island’s economic and physical recovery, period,” Velazquez said.

Trump has had a thorny relationship with Puerto Rico’s leaders for years.

After the 2017 hurricanes, critics accused the president of racism after he expressed reluctance about releasing aid to Puerto Rico while pledging sweeping support for states like Texas and Florida when they suffered natural disasters.

Trump infamously tossed paper towels at a crowd of Puerto Ricans when he visited the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria in October 2017.


[New York Daily News]

Trump Boasts of Stock Market In Wild Tweet: ‘HOW ARE YOUR 409K’S DOING?’

President Donald Trump touched on a series of topics in his Thursday morning Twitter statements, and in the most recent one, he declared that the stock market is soaring and everyone’s “409K’S” are doing great.

“STOCK MARKET AT ALL-TIME HIGH!” Trump tweeted in all-caps. “HOW ARE YOUR 409K’S DOING? 70%, 80%, 90% up? Only 50% up! What are you doing wrong?”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1215285845336502272?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Here’s a picture of the tweet before it got deleted:

Long story short, there’s no such thing as a 409k. 401k, sure. Not 409.

[Mediaite]

Trump Retweets Attack Article That Names Alleged Whistleblower

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account retweeted on Thursday a tweet by the president’s re-election campaign account, the official “Trump war room” that allegedly names the whistleblower whose complaint led Democrats to launch the impeachment inquiry. 

“It’s pretty simple. The CIA ‘whistleblower’ is not a real whistleblower!” says the tweet Trump retweeted, which includes a link to a Washington Examiner piece, published Dec. 3, the alleged whistleblower’s name in the headline.

While some right-wing news outlets have named the alleged whistleblower, no major news agency has and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the United States Senate, has argued that the whistleblower’s name must remain private to protect his safety.

[Haaretz]

Trump Threatens to Expose Information on Vindman

Donald Trump on Sunday appeared to threaten to expose information on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated veteran who reportedly testified that the president omitted certain key words and phrases from the White House’s memo of the Ukraine phone call at the center of an impeachment inquiry. While speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump repeated unfounded claims that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” a label he also bestowed on former Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor after his impeachment inquiry testimony outlined how Trump officials made demands of the Ukrainian government in exchange for investigations into the Bidens. 

Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran and National Security Council official, reportedly testified that he was instructed by White House counsel John Eisenberg to keep quiet about the call after voicing his concerns. “It’s a whole scam… it’s between the Democrats and the fake news media,” Trump said of the inquiry. When asked what evidence he had that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” the president responded: “We’ll be showing that to you real soon.”


[The Daily Beast]


Kellyanne Conway threatens to investigate reporter’s personal life in unhinged interview

Trump White House counselor Kellyanne Conway threatened to investigate a reporter’s personal life during an unhinged interview with the Washington Examiner.

The trouble began after Examiner reporter Caitlin Yilek received a call from Tom Joannou, who serves as Conway’s personal assistant, to complain about a story she’d written that included mentions of husband George Conway, who has become a prominent critic of President Donald Trump.

Joannou asked Yilek if the conversation could be off the record, and she agreed. However, shortly after the two started talking, Kellyanne Conway herself grabbed the phone and started haranguing Yilek.

Because she had only agreed to stay off the record with Joannou, the conversation with Conway was now on the record.

The Trump adviser railed against Yilek for writing about her husband and claimed that he was only now making a name for himself because of her relation with the president.

“Let me tell you something, from a powerful woman,” Conway said. “Don’t pull the crap where you’re trying to undercut another woman based on who she’s married to. He gets his power through me, if you haven’t noticed. Not the other way around.”

Later in the interview, Conway threatened to launch investigations into Yilek’s personal life.

“Listen, if you’re going to cover my personal life, then we’re welcome to do the same around here,” she said. “If it has nothing to do with my job, which it doesn’t, that’s obvious, then we’re either going to expect you to cover everybody’s personal life or we’re going to start covering them over here.”

Read the whole interview at this link.

[Raw Story]

Trump’s Syria strategy: Get out, but “keep the oil”

A U.S. military convoy withdrawing from Syria for Iraq today was pelted with fruit and stones by Kurdish civilians who accuse the superpower they once saw as their protector of leaving them in peril. 

Driving the news: “We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives,” President Trump responded back in Washington. He said the U.S. would keep small detachments in Syria at the request of Israel and Jordan and to “protect the oil,” but there was otherwise “no reason” to remain.

  • “We want to keep the oil, and we’ll work something out with the Kurds. … Maybe we’ll have one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly,” Trump said.
  • He also insisted a ceasefire announced from Turkey last week by Vice President Pence was holding despite “some skirmishes.” 

What to watch: The deal expires tomorrow night and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to resume his offensive if the so-called “safe zone” he’s demanded isn’t cleared of Kurdish fighters. Erdogan will be meeting tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • According to Brett McGurk, who resigned as Trump’s counter-ISIS envoy over a planned withdrawal last December, it’s now “in the hands of Putin” whether “an epic humanitarian catastrophe” unfolds in Syrian border cities like Kobane that had been held by Kurdish forces.

Behind the scenes: I asked McGurk today whether he’d ever heard Trump express interest in what would become of Syria after the ISIS caliphate was defeated.

  • “He talked about defeating the ISIS caliphate, he takes credit for it, but beyond that I don’t think he has much of a significant concern,” McGurk said, speaking at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
  • While the U.S. had several stated objectives in Syria that required long-term commitments — including remaining until Iran was out and the peace process finalized — McGurk said he never heard Trump himself vocalize them.
  • “In fact, he basically says, ‘the Russians and anybody else can do what they want,’” McGurk continued
  • Why it matters: “If the president isn’t fully bought into a policy, particularly when it comes to war and peace … when there’s a crisis he’s not going to really have anyone’s back.”

Trump did express interest in what would happen to Syria’s oil. McGurk said he explored the issue with Rex Tillerson, who was then secretary of state and previously ExxonMobil CEO.

Reality check: “I think [Tillerson’s] phrase was, ‘That’s not how oil works,’ McGurk said, noting that the oil legally belongs to the Syrian state.

  • “Maybe there are new lawyers, but it was just illegal for an American company to go and seize and exploit these assets.”

The bottom line: “We don’t want these resources to get in the hands of terrorists or others, but maybe Trump should have thought about this before he basically made a decision that unraveled the tapestry that had been working relatively well,” McGurk said.

[Axios]

G-7 Summit To Be Held At Trump’s Miami Golf Resort

Next year’s Group of Seven gathering of the leaders of the world’s biggest economies will take place at President Trump’s Doral golf resort outside of Miami,acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced on Thursday.

“We used a lot of the same criteria used by past administrations,” Mulvaney said. He later said it was almost as though the resort had been built for the event.

The Trump administration’s decision to host the high-profile international summit at Doral is sure to stoke the ongoing controversy about Trump’s decision to maintain his ownership of his businesses while serving as president.

“We know the environment we live in,” Mulvaney said, adding that Trump was willing to take the scrutiny.

Mulvaney noted that Doral was Trump’s suggestion that staff followed up on. He said “no” when asked whether it was better to avoid the appearance of self-dealing, pointing repeatedly to potential cost savings. He said he would not share documents on the decision-making process.

Trump made his interest in holding the summit at Doral known in August, while attending this year’s gathering in Biarritz, France.

“We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing with it,” Trump told reporters. He mentioned the resort’s proximity to Miami International Airport, abundant parking and private cabanas to host each country’s delegation. “It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens.”

According to Trump’s financial disclosures, he earned $76 million in income from Doral in 2018. But in a sign of how the Trump brand has struggled since he became a political figure, that’s a substantial drop from the nearly $116 million the resort earned for him in 2016.

Reaction from Democrats was swift and negative.

“The Administration’s announcement that President Trump’s Doral Miami resort will be the site of the next G7 summit is among the most brazen examples yet of the President’s corruption,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in a statement. “He is exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain.”

When asked whether it was appropriate to hold the international summit at Trump’s property, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters at the Capitol, “No.”

While Trump stepped away from running the Trump Organization before becoming president, he never gave up his stake in his various businesses, which include golf clubs, hotels and office buildings around the world.

There are several lawsuits moving through the courts that allege Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bans the president from accepting gifts and payments from foreign and state governments.

Noah Bookbinder — the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is one of the groups suing Trump over the emoluments issue — described the announcement as “unbelievable.”

“Given the potential consequences the president is facing for abusing the presidency for his own gain, we would have thought he would steer clear of blatant corruption at least temporarily; instead he has doubled down on it,” said Bookbinder.

Since Trump secured the GOP nomination in 2016, his properties have become favored places for Republicans to hold fundraising and political events. Federal Election Commission records indicate that Trump’s reelection campaign, GOP committees and candidates have spent millions at Trump properties.

Mulvaney said on Thursday that he himself was initially skeptical of the idea but said the event would be “dramatically cheaper” if held at Doral. He said Trump had “made it very clear” that he would not profit from having the resort host the summit.

Trump’s international properties also have come under scrutiny. This summer, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged that hundreds of service members had stayed at Trump’s Scottish resort during refueling stops there. Vice President Pence also came under scrutiny for staying at Trump’s Irish golf resort during an official visit to Ireland.

[NPR]

Mulvaney Acknowledges Quid Pro Quo In Trump Ukraine Call, Says ‘Get Over It’

The acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted on Thursday that President Donald Trump withheld foreign aid in order to get Ukraine’s help in the U.S. election.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded when a reporter pointed out that withholding funding from Ukraine “unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens” is a “quid pro quo.”

“Get over it,” he added later. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. … That is going to happen. Elections have consequences.”

[Huffington Post]

Trump publicly urges China to investigate Bidens amid impeachment inquiry

 President Donald Trump urged another foreign government to probe Joe Biden and his son Thursday, saying the Chinese government should investigate the former vice president and son Hunter Biden over the latter’s involvement with an investment fund that raised money in the country.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

While Trump said he hasn’t requested Chinese President Xi Jinping investigate the Bidens, the public call mirrors the private behavior on which Democrats are partially basing their impeachment inquiry — using the office of the presidency to press a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

It is “certainly something we can start thinking about, because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being on that kind of scrutiny, where billions of dollars is taken out of his country by a guy that just got kicked out of the Navy,” Trump said Thursday of asking China to probe the Bidens. “He got kicked out of the Navy, all of the sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”

The U.S. in the midst of a tense trade war with China. The president, discussing progress on negotiations with Beijing on a possible trade agreement just moments prior to his remarks about the Bidens, told reporters that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Chinese officials will be in Washington next week in another attempt to revive talks, Trump said.

Trump, seeking to expand his corruption accusations against the Bidens beyond Ukraine, has in recent days repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of using a 2013 trip on Air Force Two with his father, then the vice president, to procure $1.5 billion from China for a private equity fund he had started.

Prior to Thursday, Trump had not called for an investigation of the matter. The White House declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Despite Trump’s accusations, there has been no evidence of corruption on the part of the former vice president or his son. In a statement, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said the president “is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations.”

“As Joe Biden forcefully said last night, the defining characteristic of Donald Trump’s presidency is the ongoing abuse of power. What Donald Trump just said on the South Lawn of the White House was this election’s equivalent of his infamous ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ moment from 2016 — a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over the country,” Bedingfield said.

Trump, during a 2016 campaign rally, encouraged the country to meddle in the 2016 election by trying to access Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation found that within hours of Trump‘s invitation, Russian military intelligence initiated a hack against Clinton’s office. Trump and his allies have said he wasn’t serious when he made the comment.

In pushing back on Trump, Biden’s campaign previously pointed to a fact-check from The Washington Post that found Trump’s claims false while tracing the origins of the $1.5 billion figure to a 2018 book published by conservative author Peter Schweizer.

In addition, Hunter Biden’s spokesman, George Mesires, told NBC News previously that Hunter Biden wasn’t initially an “owner” of the company and has never gotten paid for serving on the board. He said Hunter Biden didn’t acquire an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office.

And when he did, he put in only about $420,000 — a 10 percent interest. That puts the total capitalization of the fund at the time at about $4.2 million — a far cry from the $1.5 billion that Trump has alleged.

Trump also said Thursday that he still wants Ukraine to conduct “a major investigation” into Joe and Hunter Biden.

[NBC News]

Reality

Lawfare: Former federal prosecutor and current professor at the University of Alabama School of Law Joyce White Vance concisely yet methodically explained why Trump’s statements constituted a crime.

“Trump just committed a felony violation of law by soliciting something of value in connection with a US election from a foreign government on national TV. 52 U.S. Code § 30121. Violating the law isn’t necessary for Impeachment but it certainly warrants it,” Vance wrote (including a citation to a statute).

She then explained how previously documented accounts of similar behavior render Trump’s conduct here even more culpable than in earlier instances of his requests for foreign assistance.

“The statute requires knowledge your conduct is a crime. After the Mueller investigation, there’s no way Trump was unaware this violates the law. Ukraine/China can you hear me is even worse than Russia, if that’s possible, because it comes from a sitting president,” she wrote.

Trump: Why aren’t we entitled to ‘learn everything about’ the whistleblower?

President Trump on Tuesday reiterated his desire to meet with and question the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s interactions with the leader of Ukraine ignited an impeachment inquiry.

The president, who in recent days attacked the whistleblower as a “fraud” and attempted to undermine their credibility, questioned why he doesn’t have the right to interview the anonymous individual.

“Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him,” Trump tweeted. “This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer, or better. No pressure at all (as confirmed by Ukrainian Pres.). It is just another Democrat Hoax!”

Trump claimed the author of the complaint “has all second hand information” and that “almost everything” the whistleblower recounted about the president’s call with Ukraine was wrong.

But neither of those things is true.

The whistleblower’s account of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky aligns with a rough White House transcript that shows Trump urged Zelensky to “look into” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and asked him to investigate a company with ties to the 2016 election.

In addition, the intelligence community inspector general released a statement on Monday night clarifying that the whistleblower had firsthand information and information from other sources in their complaint about Trump.

Democrats and the whistleblower’s attorneys have expressed concerns that Trump is endangering the person’s safety by attempting to uncover their identity and questioning their motives.

The president has ramped up his attacks on the anonymous individual behind the whistleblower complaint in recent days, claiming he should be able to meet the complainant and alleging they are partisan despite not knowing their identity.

The Whistleblower Protection Act makes it a violation for federal agencies to threaten retaliation against individuals who come forward to raise concerns of wrongdoing within the government.

[The Hill]

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