Trump offers White House staffers a special perk at his golf club

There’s an under-the-radar perk being offered to staffers in President Donald Trump’s administration — discounts on Trump-branded merchandise sold at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.

White House staffers who have a Secret Service hard pin identifying them as administration officials can flash it at the pro shop — where Trump-branded driver headcovers retail for $40 and a Trump golf polo tee sells for $90, according to the online Trump store — and receive the same discount available to club members, who pay a reported $350,000 to join the club.

Those discounts range from 15 percent off of any merchandise sold in the store, to 70 percent off clearance items, according to two staffers and a receipt reviewed by POLITICO.

The practice is the latest indication that being a public servant in this administration comes with special perks to sweeten the deal. The discounts available at the Bedminster club were originally pitched by the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and the president himself as a nice gesture to aides, according to the recollection of someone familiar with the setup. (White House officials denied Ivanka Trump’s involvement and said she was not even aware the discount existed.)

But ethics experts say the arrangement only highlights how Trump remains more entangled in his commercial properties than any president in American history. Those blurry lines between his government work and his private business, from which he never divested, are perhaps most fuzzy when the president is spending time with government officials on the grounds of his own properties.

Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a former associate counsel in the Obama and Clinton administrations, said the practice of offering any discounts to people identified by their Secret Service pins was “absolutely wrong.”

Discounts are not prohibited by the Office of Government Ethics if they are available to all government employees, or if it’s a standardized discount. But if they are not, the discount is considered a gift. Federal officials are also prohibited from accepting gifts in excess of $20 and are urged to decline any gifts “when accepting them would raise concerns about the appearance of impropriety.”

“It’s prohibited under the standards of conduct for any government employee to accept a gift because of their official position,” said Canter. “The fact is, people’s access to that facility is extremely limited. It’s not open to all government employees. It’s limited to staff who have access to the facility and second of all, who are given access to the Secret Service pin. It’s not OK.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not comment about the discount.

But getting perks in the pro shop goes beyond White House staffers.

Trump has pilfered his own store to charm Republican lawmakers and their aides, whom he frequently invites to join him for rounds of golf at his properties in Sterling, Virginia, and Palm Beach, Florida. GOP aides have been directed to the pro shop to pick up golf apparel — gratis — when the president saw they were not outfitted for golf. It was not clear whether Trump later personally picked up the tab or the business ate the extra expense.

The discounts remain under the radar even within the White House. One former senior administration official said he never knew about the price chop and had always paid full price for pro-shop merchandise. “I overpaid, big time,” the former official said. “Part of me wishes I knew. Part of me is glad I didn’t.” Other aides said they learned of the discount through the grapevine only after having paid full price.

The discounts are also not available across-the-board at all Trump clubs — each pro shop sets its own rules, and staffers who recently shopped at the Turnberry resort in Scotland while working for the president on his most recent foreign trip said they were expected to pay full price for the goods they brought home.

POLITICO reviewed a recent receipt that showed a current White House official receiving a 70 percent discount on a piece of merchandise that was a clearance item, and a 30 percent discount on an item from the current collection.

Norm Eisen, who served as the ethics czar under former President Barack Obama, said Trump’s habit of doling out discounted goods from his personal business is an abuse of office.

“It does have an effect on how Trump tries to secure personal loyalty and woo people away from what should be their primary and their only loyalty — to the Constitution, to public service and to the people of the United States,” Eisen said. “This is another small inducement, apparently contrary to federal law, that he uses to bind his staff to him personally.”

Trump, who throughout his life has been accused of regularly stiffing contractors and failing to pay his debts, is often a fan of generous gestures when he’s relaxing at one of his own properties. If he sees a table of staffers dining, he’ll often send over a dessert on the house, or pick up the check, another aide said.

Those gestures would be allowed if he, himself, is paying out of his own pocket to cover the meal. But they would also be prohibited by federal gift rules if he simply charged those meals to the club.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, Amanda Miller, did not return calls and emails for 12 days.

Trump Wants You to Choose a Space Force Logo… for the Merch He’ll Sell You

No one but defense contractors and their accountants knows why America needs a Space Force. But moments after announcing the new U.S. military branch, the Trump campaign gave us a hint at this arguably idiotic idea’s true purpose: Lining the campaign’s pockets.

At this point, it’s a tired cliche to claim the president is just trying to distract us from his scandals when he does something really stupid. As we speak, he’s trying to make it easier to poison our kids, his secretary of commerce appears to be a world class grifter, his former campaign manager is probably going to jail for what can best be described as “crimes,” and he can’t stop building an obstruction of justice case against himself. That’s just stuff that happened this week. But no, I don’t believe the Space Force initiative—which will only happen if Congress funds it—is a calculated distraction. It appears to be more of a fundraising con game.

In an email sent out to supporters following Vice President Mike Pence’s speech announcing the formation of the agency dedicated to protecting space (?), the Trump campaign team asked people to vote for their favorite Space Force logo. Six options are displayed and one would be forgiven for thinking this is a great chance to be a part of history. After all, what if you had cast the deciding vote that made the NASA logo what it is today?

Alas, the details are in the fine print—or in this case, the non-bold print in an easy to read, four-sentence email. “As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear,” the line reads. It’s followed by, “first we have to make a final decision on the design we will use to commemorate President Trump’s new Space Force—and he wants YOU to have a say.” Choosing a logo takes you to a confirmation page that gets a little data from you, and it finally lands on a donation page asking for some money now before you have that sweet new line of gear.

The worst part of this is that not only is Trump, once again, personally profiting from the federal government, but he’s cutting into NASA’s merch game. In fact, the only logo that doesn’t look like it was made by Dan Scavino’s intern using MS Paint is one that is a direct ripoff of NASA’s logo.

A final logo looks suspiciously like some art from the video game No Man’s Sky and tells us “Mars Awaits.” We don’t know what Space Force has to do with Mars—it’s a defense agency tasked with protecting U.S. satellites, not traveling to other planets—but the planet is out there, just waiting to get its ass kicked.

We reached out to the Trump campaign to ask when this “line of gear” will be available to the public, if the logo will become the agency’s official seal, and how the profits of sales will be used. We did not get an immediate response, and we don’t expect one. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “We choose to grift! We choose to grift and do the other things, not because it is hard, but because it is easy.”

[Gizmodo]

Trump Administration Mulls a Unilateral Tax Cut for the Rich

The Trump administration is considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy, a legally tenuous maneuver that would cut capital gains taxation and fulfill a long-held ambition of many investors and conservatives.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina this month that his department was studying whether it could use its regulatory powers to allow Americans to account for inflation in determining capital gains tax liabilities. The Treasury Department could change the definition of “cost” for calculating capital gains, allowing taxpayers to adjust the initial value of an asset, such as a home or a share of stock, for inflation when it sells.

“If it can’t get done through a legislation process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mr. Mnuchin said, emphasizing that he had not concluded whether the Treasury Department had the authority to act alone. “We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth.”

Currently, capital gains taxes are determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference, usually at 20 percent. If a high earner spent $100,000 on stock in 1980, then sold it for $1 million today, she would owe taxes on $900,000. But if her original purchase price was adjusted for inflation, it would be about $300,000, reducing her taxable “gain” to $700,000. That would save the investor $40,000.

The move would face a near-certain court challenge. It could also reinforce a liberal critique of Republican tax policy at a time when Republicans are struggling to sell middle-class voters on the benefits of the tax cuts that President Trump signed into law late last year.

“At a time when the deficit is out of control, wages are flat and the wealthiest are doing better than ever, to give the top 1 percent another advantage is an outrage and shows the Republicans’ true colors,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “Furthermore, Mr. Mnuchin thinks he can do it on his own, but everyone knows this must be done by legislation.”

Capital gains taxes are overwhelmingly paid by high earners, and they were untouched in the $1.5 trillion tax law that Mr. Trump signed last year. Independent analyses suggest that more than 97 percent of the benefits of indexing capital gains for inflation would go to the top 10 percent of income earners in America. Nearly two-thirds of the benefits would go to the super wealthy — the top 0.1 percent of American income earners.

Making the change by fiat would be a bold use of executive power — one that President George Bush’s administration considered and rejected in 1992, after concluding that the Treasury Department did not have the power to make the change on its own. Larry Kudlow, the chairman of the National Economic Council, has long advocated it.

Conservative advocates for the plan say that even if it is challenged in court, it could still goose the economy by unleashing a wave of asset sales. “No matter what the courts do, you’ll get the main economic benefit the day, the month after Treasury does this,” said Ryan Ellis, a tax lobbyist in Washington and former tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

Liberal tax economists see little benefit in it beyond another boon to the already rich.

“It would just be a very generous addition to the tax cuts they’ve already handed to the very wealthy,” said Alexandra Thornton, senior director of tax policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, “and it would play into the hands of their tax advisers, who would be well positioned to take advantage of the loopholes that were opened by it.”

The decades-long push to change the taxation of investment income has spurred a legal debate over the original meaning of the word “cost” in the Revenue Act of 1918, and over the authority of the Treasury Department to interpret the word in regulations.

“I think we ought to look at not penalizing Americans for inflation,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who said he would like to see the Treasury Department make the change through regulation.

Mr. Bush’s Treasury Department determined that redefining “cost” by regulatory fiat would be illegal — a conclusion buttressed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which found that “cost” means the price that was paid for something.

But conservatives have disputed this conclusion. Pushing Mr. Trump to make the change, Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has cited a 2002 Supreme Court decision in a case between Verizon Communications and the Federal Communications Commission that said regulators have leeway in defining “cost” to make the case that the Treasury Department can act alone.

“This would be in terms of its economic impact over the next several years, and long term, similar in size as the last tax cut,” Mr. Norquist said, suggesting that making the change would raise revenue for the government by creating new economic efficiencies and faster growth. “I think it’s going to happen and it’s going to be huge.”

He and others said last year’s tax cut would also pay for itself, but despite strong economic growth, corporate tax receipts have plunged and the deficit has soared.

According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, indexing capital gains to inflation would reduce government revenues by $102 billion over a decade, with 86 percent of the benefits going to the top 1 percent. A July report from the Congressional Research Service said that the additional debt incurred by indexing capital gains to inflation would most likely offset any stimulus that the smaller tax burden provided to the economy.

“It is unlikely, however, that a significant, or any, effect on economic growth would occur from a stand-alone indexing proposal,” the report said.

Michael Graetz, a tax law professor at Columbia University who worked in the Treasury Department’s tax policy office when the department determined that taxing capital gains could not be changed by regulation, said he still thought that the decision to change the law should fall to Congress.

He pointed out that the department would have to make decisions about what types of assets would be indexed and that it would essentially be picking winners and losers.

“There’s certainly no legal authority for Treasury to choose what assets to treat this way,” Mr. Graetz said.

Two law professors, Daniel J. Hemel of the University of Chicago and David Kamin of New York University, wrote in a paper last month that states, charities and other entities could sue the Treasury Department if it tried to make the change. Mr. Kamin said in an interview that the change would create opportunities for gaming the tax code, in part because other parts of the code, such as interest payments, would still be unadjusted for inflation.

A framework for a second round of tax cuts, released by the Ways and Means Committee last week, did not address taxation of capital gains. It is highly unlikely that Congress will pass another tax bill this year because of the slim Republican majority in the Senate.

Democratic senators have written to Mr. Mnuchin, urging him to stand down.

“Treasury does not have the unilateral authority to take our tax code and expose it to widespread gamesmanship,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. “Indexing capital gains under this regime is a boondoggle for the rich, plain and simple.”

A Treasury Department official wrote Mr. Wyden a two-paragraph reply this month. “We appreciate your taking the time to express the thoughts outlined in the letter,” it read. “We will take them under advisement.”

[The New York Times]

Wealthy Trump Pals Paid Rick Gates for Access to His Administration

Even as he became the target of a federal investigators, Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign No. 2 and longtime partner of Paul Manafort, was being paid last year by two Trump allies for insider access to the new administration, the New York Timesreports.

The paper identifies the men as Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fundraiser and former deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Tom Barrack, the billionaire Trump buddy who took a key role in planning his inauguration.

Broidy paid Gates $125,000 to help him in “courting foreign government clients for a defense contractor he had purchased in 2015, and pushing for policies that favored clients and prospective clients,” the Timesreports. His missions while in Broidy’s employ included advising the venture capitalist on how to get Trump to play golf with former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, whom Broidy was trying to butter up on behalf of his defense firm. The paper learned these details after it was leaked a series of emails stolen from Broidy, who has been in the news in recent months for his supposed affair with a Playboyplaymate.

Meanwhile, Barracks’s company, Colony NorthStar, paid Gates $20,000 a month for his advice on issues related to the communications industry, he said last year. Gates’s contracts with both Broidy and Barrack eventually dried up as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closed in on him. He would eventually be charged with a raft of financial crimes and illegal foreign lobbying, pleading guilty in February. He is now cooperating with prosecutors.

The Times describes these deals as Gates marketing his “administration access,” but it’s hard to imagine why Broidy and Barrack, who were both close to Trump, would need to spend so much money for access to the administration.

[New York Magazine]

Government paid $65K to Trump company for Scotland stay

The U.S. government paid roughly $65,000 for housing and accommodations for staffers at President Trump’s Turnberry golf resort, The Scotsman reported Tuesday.

The news outlet, citing government spending records, found that the State Department paid roughly 52,000 pounds — or $65,000 — to SLC Turnberry Limited, which is registered with a company whose directors include Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

The government made an initial payment on July 11 for close to $30,000 that covered hotel rooms and a “VIP visit,” according to The Scotsman.

The other payment, approved on July 10, reportedly covered hotel accommodations at the golf resort.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eric Trump responded to the news report on Twitter shortly after it was published, saying the company charges its costs related to any U.S. government business, and it does not profit from the visits.
“Much more would be spent if they stayed elsewhere,” he added.

The president spent last weekend at his property, where he played golf and sat for an interview with CBS News ahead of his trip to Finland to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Scotsman reported in May that the government had paid Trump’s Turnberry resort earlier in the year to accommodate visits from administration officials.

Trump roiled ethics watchdogs after his election when he refused to fully divest from his businesses. The then-president-elect instead placed his assets in a trust controlled by Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

The latest payments are likely to ignite criticism from ethics watchdogs, who have long argued that the Trumps are using the presidency to enrich the family’s business empire.

Three separate lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration claiming that the president is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts or benefits from foreign governments without congressional approval.

One lawsuit was dismissed in December, and the other two are working their way through the court system.

[The Hill]

Trump’s Turnberry getaway: A little golf, a lot of promoting

President Donald Trump did not let the pressure of his high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin stand in the way of his typical Saturday routine: Tweeting followed by golf on a Trump-branded course.

“The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning, promoting his own money-losing property in Turnberry.

Trump did not plug his business from the official government account of the President of the United States, which he does not use. Instead, he gave the property a boost from his personal account, from behind the walls of his private club.

To ethics experts who criticized the president’s use of his office to promote his business, the account he uses marks a distinction without a difference. But it was the latest sign of Trump bending the presidency to fit the old lifestyle he misses — even down to sticking with his own account — rather than being shaped by the demands of the office he occupies.

During the course of his trip, Trump has conducted himself more like his pre-presidential self than ever before, while traveling. In England, he turned to the familiar pages of a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid to mouth off about a world leader — before his election, Trump’s favorite newspaper to call up and chat with was the New York Post. This time, however, he later tried to walk back his comments criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations when he seemed to realize that intervening in the fragile government of an ally was a mistake.

At a black tie dinner on Wednesday night at Blenheim Palace, he made sure that the dinner included some familiar faces from home, among the Brits — including Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and Trump friend, Wall Street billionaire Stephen Schwarzman and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

Later, he mugged for his press secretary by taking a seat in Winston Churchill’s chair while meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers, a casual photo that gave the impression of a Churchill-loving tourist, rather than a visiting head of state.

But his turn at Turnberry has been long planned, aides said. Over the past 18 months in office, associates said, he has often talked about scheduling a visit here to check on his properties.

Trump loves his Scottish clubs, friends said, and typically visited them about once a year in his old life as a private citizen with a mouthy Twitter account. Friends said he has an emotional connection to the clubs here, and often mentions his mother, who was born in Scotland, when he brings up the Trump links at Turnberry and Aberdeen.

Ahead of his trip abroad, he told associates that he was eager to hang out in Scotland and check in on his properties, noting he was frustrated he had gone too long without a visit. (He lasted visited Turnberry as a presidential candidate in 2016.)

One former adviser noted that the Scotland and England portions of the trip were meant to entice Trump to even attend the NATO Summit in Brussels, which he approached with dread, like a dessert he earned after eating his vegetables.We

At home, Trump spends most of his time away from the White House at his own properties: Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach during the winter; the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster during the summer; and the Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia, or the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., on the weekends he stays put.

His two-day break in Scotland, some downtime between from international meetings, however, marked the first time he has spent a weekend at one of his own properties while traveling abroad as president.

On Saturday morning, he tweeted that he was going to be busy with “meetings and calls” at the club, noting that he would squeeze in golf if he had the time. But just like at home, “meetings and calls” appeared to mean more time on the course. Shortly after his tweet, he was spotted playing golf with his son Eric Trump, whose “Trump” branded plane had been waiting on the tarmac when Air Force One landed here on Friday night.

[Politico]

News media paid Melania Trump thousands for use of photos in ‘positive stories only’

Since her husband took office Melania Trump has earned six figures from an unusual deal with a photo agency in which major media organizations have indirectly paid the Trump family despite a requirement that the photos be used only in positive coverage.

President Donald Trump’s most recent financial disclosure reveals that in 2017 the first lady earned at least $100,000 from Getty Images for the use of any of a series of 187 photos of the first family shot between 2010 and 2016 by Belgian photographer Regine Mahaux.

It’s not unheard of for celebrities to earn royalties from photos of themselves, but it’s very unusual for the wife of a currently serving elected official. More problematic for the many news organizations that have published or broadcast the images, however, is that Getty’s licensing agreement stipulates the pictures can be used in “positive stories only.”

According to the revenue statement in President Trump’s May financial disclosure, Melania Trump earned between $100,000 and $1,000,000 in photo royalties in 2017 from the Getty deal.

Federal officials are only required to give an income range in their filings, and both Getty and the White House declined requests to provide more precise figures or list the places the images had appeared.

But NBC News found at least a dozen organizations that had paid to use Mahaux’s restricted images of the Trumps in 2017, resulting in indirect payment to the first family.

Yahoo News, NBC News, Marie Claire, the Daily Mail, My San Antonio, Houston Chronicle, House Beautiful, and SF Gate, the website for The San Francisco Chronicle, are among those that have featured Mahaux’s highly stylized family portraits since Trump took office.

The February 2017 issue of the Russian edition of the fashion magazine Elle included a gilded Mahaux portrait of the first family.

A Mahaux group portrait of Donald, Melania and son Barron Trump was featured on the May page of the White House 2017 calendar that was on sale in the White House gift shop for $14. Bent Publishing, which publishes the calendars, confirmed that it licensed the Mahaux photo for the 2017 calendar. The 2018 calendar now on sale at the gift shop does not include any Mahaux images.

NBC News also found that numerous entities had used the images before President Trump took office, though no income from the Getty deal was itemized in any financial disclosure prior to 2017.

[NBC News]

Rich Alaskan donor gave $250K to Trump after EPA reversed decision on Pebble Mine

A wealthy activist who has funded efforts to block a proposed mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay donated $250,000 to President Donald Trump‘s re-election effort six weeks after the administration abruptly decided to prevent the mine from moving forward.

The move to block the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay from moving forward seems to diverge from a trend in policy under the leadership of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt — seen as one of President Donald Trump’s most productive cabinet members in moving to undo environmental regulations put in place under the Obama administration. During the Trump presidency, the EPA in 2017 had previously allowed the mine to move forward.

The EPA said the change in course was because the environmental risk was too great and announced on January 26 that the mine would not immediately move forward.

Robert Gillam made his second and largest donation to Trump Victory Fund just weeks later, donating $250,000 on March 9, according to FEC filings.

Gillam has previously spent as much as $2.5 million to block the Pebble Mine from moving forward in Alaska’s fertile fishing ground called the Bristol Bay. He has been advocating against the mine since 2005, according to an Alaska state report. He declined to comment for this story.

Gillam has previously donated to the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Republican campaigns in Alaska.

He went to Wharton with Trump and met with him at Mar-a-Lago the weekend before he made a $250,000 donation to the president’s Victory Fund, according to a report in E&E News. Gillam owns a fishing lodge in the area, according to public meeting records, and has said that the mine would hurt the local salmon population.

Last November he wrote in an editorial that the mine project was “doomed.”

[ABC News]

Ivanka Trump Was In Contact With A Russian Who Offered A Trump-Putin Meeting

Amid intense scrutiny of contacts between Donald Trump’s inner circle and representatives of Vladimir Putin, Ivanka Trump’s name has barely come up. But during the campaign, she connected her father’s personal lawyer with a Russian athlete who offered to introduce Donald Trump to Putin to facilitate a 100-story Trump tower in Moscow, according to emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News and four sources with knowledge of the matter.

There is no evidence that Ivanka Trump’s contact with the athlete — the former Olympic weightlifter Dmitry Klokov — was illegal or that it had anything to do with the election. Nor is it clear that Klokov could even have introduced Trump to the Russian president. But congressional investigators have reviewed emails and questioned witnesses about the interaction, according to two of the sources, and so has special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, according to the other two.

The contacts reveal that even as her father was campaigning to become president of the United States, Ivanka Trump connected Michael Cohen with a Russian who offered to arrange a meeting with one of the US’s adversaries — in order to help close a business deal that could have made the Trump family millions.

These interactions also shed new light on Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer, who is under criminal investigation and who played a key role in many of Donald Trump’s biggest deals — including the audacious effort to build Europe’s tallest tower in the Russian capital.

In the fall of 2015, that effort was well underway. Cohen negotiated with Felix Sater, one of the president’s longtime business associates, and agreed upon a Russian developer to build the tower. Donald Trump personally signed a nonbinding letter of intent on Oct. 28, 2015, the day of the third Republican debate, to allow a Russian developer to brand the tower with Trump’s name. The agreement stated that the Trump Organization would have the option to brand the hotel’s spa and fitness facilities as “The Spa by Ivanka Trump” and that Ivanka Trump would be granted “sole and absolute discretion” to have the final say on “all interior design elements of the spa or fitness facilities.”

Ivanka Trump was then an executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization. Publicly, she was a sophisticated ambassador for the company, attending ribbon cuttings, posting pictures of deals on her Instagram page, and gracing advertisements for the company’s new properties. But inside the Trump Organization, she had a reputation as a shrewd and tough executive known to get her way.

Ivanka Trump, who now works in her father’s administration, did not respond to questions sent to her personal email, chief of staff, and the White House. A spokesperson for her attorney wrote that Ivanka Trump did not know about the Trump Moscow project “until after a nonbinding letter of intent had been signed, never talked to anyone outside the Organization about the proposal, and, even internally, was only minimally involved. Her only role was limited to reminding Mr. Cohen that, should an actual deal come to fruition (which it did not) the project, like any other with the Trump name, conform with the highest design and architectural standards.”

More than five hours after BuzzFeed News published this story, the spokesperson, Peter Mirijanian, wrote that he “inadvertently” left off part of the statement: “Ms. Trump did not know and never spoke to Dmitry Klokov. She received an unsolicited email from his wife (who she also did not know) and passed it on to Michael Cohen who she understood was working on any possible projects in Russia. She did no more than that.”

But interviews suggest that her involvement ran deeper.

In November 2015, Ivanka Trump told Cohen to speak with Klokov, according to the four sources. Cohen had at least one phone conversation with the weightlifter, they said. It is not known what the men discussed over the phone, but they exchanged a string of emails that are now being examined by congressional investigators and federal agents probing Russia’s election meddling.

In one of those emails, Klokov told Cohen that he could arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Putin to help pave the way for the tower. Later, Cohen sent an email refusing that offer and saying that the Trump Organization already had an agreement in place. He said he was cutting off future communication with Klokov. Copying Ivanka Trump, the Russian responded in a final brusque message, in which he questioned Cohen’s authority to make decisions for the Trump Organization. Frustrated by the exchange, Ivanka Trump questioned Cohen’s refusal to continue communicating with Klokov, according to one of the sources.

BuzzFeed News was shown the emails on the condition we do not quote them.

It’s unclear how Ivanka Trump came into contact with Klokov. The chiseled giant, who is 35 and lives in Moscow, has 340,000 followers on Instagram, where he frequently posts pictures and videos of weightlifting and associated products bearing his name.

He won the silver medal in the 2008 Olympic Games and took gold at the 2005 World Championships, but he has no apparent background in real estate development. Nor is he known to be a close associate of Putin or anyone in the Russian president’s inner circle, and he does not appear to publicly participate in his country’s politics. It’s not even clear he could have made good on his offer to arrange a meeting between Putin and Donald Trump.

Klokov initially told BuzzFeed News that he did not “send any emails” to Cohen. “I don’t understand why you ask me about this,” Klokov said in text messages. “I’m weightlifter, not a political.” When told that he had sent at least two emails to Cohen and had had a phone conversation with him at Ivanka Trump’s request, Klokov stopped responding.

Cohen referred BuzzFeed News to his attorney, Stephen Ryan, who declined to comment.

FBI and congressional investigators, two of the sources said, are still trying to determine the relationship between Ivanka Trump and the Olympian.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and emails between Cohen and Klokov were among the documents that the Trump Organization turned over to the committee, according to two sources. When he was interviewed by the panel in October, Cohen released a statementdisputing allegations of a conspiracy to rig the election in Trump’s favor.

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on Klokov, Ivanka Trump, or any specifics. But he said he could see how Russian athletes, like the country’s oligarchs, might be drawn into Russian politics.

“I can’t speak specifically to athletes, but you see the oligarchs, and there is a model for them, and they do things on behalf of the country and on behalf of Putin at their own expense — they’re not asked, they just assume the responsibility to do it, whether that’s a mercenary army in Syria or it’s screwing with elections; whether it’s the hacking out of the St. Petersburg facility,” Burr told BuzzFeed News. “So it’s not a stretch to say if Putin allows oligarchs to make money as long as they don’t get involved in politics and they do things that are beneficial to Putin — I could see athletes falling into the same category.”

A spokesperson for Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the committee vice chair, declined to comment. The special counsel’s office declined to comment as well.

Ivanka Trump wields unusually strong influence over a president known for his unpredictability and impulsiveness. Though her efforts to moderate her father’s right-wing tendencies have not always succeeded, such as when he withdrew from the Paris climate accord despite her opposition, she remains uniquely close to him. She has been by his side for years in business and was one of his most trusted and popular surrogates during the presidential campaign. She has an office in the West Wing and a small staff of advisers.

She was with her brother Donald Trump Jr. and Sater when they visited Moscow in 2006 to scout locations for a possible tower there, famously sitting in Putin’s office chair during a visit. She was also instrumental in the development of Trump SoHo, a troubled hotel and condominium tower in Manhattan. New York City prosecutors considered criminal fraud charges against Ivanka Trump and her brother Donald Jr. for allegedly misleading prospective buyers at Trump SoHo, ProPublica reported last October.

[Buzzfeed]

 

Scott Pruitt Sought ‘Business Opportunity’ With Chick-fil-A While Leading E.P.A.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave a political aide the task of helping him seek a “business opportunity” for his wife with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

Emails released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act show that Sydney Hupp, a former scheduler for Mr. Pruitt, contacted Chick-fil-A’s chief executive, Dan T. Cathy, in May 2017 at Mr. Pruitt’s behest to set up a meeting.

After a back-and-forth in which Ms. Hupp initially said the administrator “didn’t mention a specific topic” of discussion, she told the company’s director of regulatory affairs that Mr. Pruitt’s request was of a personal nature. “The Administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy. Nothing very pressing, just hoping to connect sometime in the next month or so,” Ms. Hupp wrote.

Mr. Pruitt ultimately spoke by phone with Chick-fil-A representatives.

Mr. Cathy, reached by phone, referred questions to a company spokeswoman, Carrie Kurlander. Ms. Kurlander said she would not comment further. In an email to The Washington Post, which first reported Mr. Pruitt’s effort to seek a business deal with Chick-fil-A, Ms. Kurlander had said the call was about the possibility of Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, opening a franchise of the fast food chain. Ms. Kurlander told the Post that Mrs. Pruitt never completed the franchisee application.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt had been engaged in “unethically and illegally seeking personal benefits because of the job Donald Trump has entrusted him with.”

The revelation that Mr. Pruitt asked an E.P.A. employee to help coordinate efforts to seek a personal business opportunity comes amid a wave of investigations into the administrator’s spending and management decisions including his first-class travel and spending on security, as well as his decision last year to accept a $50-a-night lease on a condominium from the wife of a lobbyist with business before his agency. Currently Mr. Pruitt faces 12 federal investigations.

 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/climate/pruitt-epa-chick-fil-a.html

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