Jared Kushner ‘Tried and Failed to Get a $500m Loan from Qatar Before Pushing Trump to Take Hard Line Against Country’

Jared Kushner tried and failed to secure a $500m loan from one of Qatar’s richest businessmen, before pushing his father-in-law to toe a hard line with the country, it has been alleged.

This intersection between Mr Kushner’s real estate dealings and his father-in-law’s international issues highlights the difficulties of an administration besiged with an unprecedented number of conflicts of interest.

Early in his real estate career, Mr Kushner purchased a building at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York for $1.8bn – a record-setting deal at the time.

These days, however, more than a quarter of the office space in the building is vacant. According to The New York Times, the building has not generated enough to pay its debts in several years, forcing Kushner Companies to cover the multimillion-dollar difference.

In 2015 – while Donald Trump was firing up his presidential campaign – Mr Kushner was working with his biological father to keep the property from going underwater. The men zeroed in on Qatari billionaire sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani (HBJ) as a potential investor.

HBJ eventually agreed to invest $500m in the property, sources tell The Intercept, on the condition that Kushner Companies found the rest of the money for the multi-billion-dollar project on its own.

For help, Kushner Companies turned to Chinese insurance company Anbang. The company agreed to secure a $4bn construction loan to develop the property in early March. But weeks later, as concerns about conflicts of interest mounted, Anbang pulled out.

Without the help of Anbang, Kushner Companies could not meet the rest of HBJ’s funding demands. According to one source in the region, HBJ killed the deal. According to another, he simply put it on hold.

Either way, a diplomatic crisis centred around Qatar broke out shortly thereafter. In early June, at least six Gulf Region countries severed or reduced ties to the country, claiming it had supported terrorism.

The countries issued a list of demands necessary for Qatar to regain favour, including shutting down the media network Al-Jazeera, cutting ties with various Islamist groups, limiting ties with Iran, and expelling Turkish troops.

The move sent the tiny, isolated nation into an economic tailspin. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson quickly encouraged the countries to engage in “calm and thoughtful dialogue“ and asked for “no further escalation by the parties in the region”.

Mr Trump, however, unleashed a string of criticism toward the country, calling it a “funder of terrorism at a very high level”.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” he tweeted on 6 June. “They said they would take a hard line on funding, extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”

The President’s position took Mr Tillerson by surprise, and sources say he suspected Mr Kushner was behind it all.

A source close to Mr Tillerson told The American Conservative that the Secretary of State is convinced that some of Mr Trump’s remarks were written by UAE ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba – a close friend of Mr Kushner.

“Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump,”  the source said. “What a mess.”

But even if the source’s account of the proceedings is true, it still leaves open the question of why Mr Kushner wanted to convince the President to speak out against Qatar.

Mr Tillerson’s reasons for supporting the small country, and urging a quick end to the conflict, however, are more clear: The US runs a crucial airbase out of the country, which runs air campaigns against Isis in Iraq and Syria, and helps protect Israel.

Mr Tillerson left on Monday for a trip to Turkey, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to help mediate an end to the crisis. Kushner Companies did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment.

[The Independent]

Trump Holds $10 Million Dollar Fundraiser at His Hotel

Protesters greeted the president with cries of “Shame!”as he arrived at the $35,000 per person bash.

Many were unhappy with the Republican healthcare plan, holding placards that said “Healthcare, not tax cuts”.

Holding the fundraising event at Trump International Hotel has increased concerns about conflicts of interest.

Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in the White House for former President George W Bush, said it was unacceptable for the president to be potentially benefiting financially from this kind of event. He should have picked another hotel, he said.

But Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specialises in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, told USA Today it did not break any laws.

It is not clear if the hotel is being paid to host the event.

Republican National Committee officials were expecting to raise about $10m, with about 300 places available.

Not all the money raised will go towards the Trump 2020 campaign – some will go to other Republican Party causes.

It is unusual for a president to raise cash for re-election so early in his first term, only five months since the former property developer took office.

“Of course he is running for re-election,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday.

Reporters were barred from attending the event.

The president has previously been criticised for entertaining foreign leaders at another of his properties in Florida.

A lawsuit filed in June argued President Trump was “flagrantly violating the constitution” by accepting payments from foreign governments, a charge the White House has strongly denied.

[BBC]

Trump sons met with GOP officials over political strategy

Family members of President Trump, including his two sons, met for hours Thursday with Republican Party officials to discuss political strategy, ABC News has learned from sources with direct knowledge of the meeting.

The president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, in addition to Eric’s wife, Lara, attended the meeting at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., sources told ABC News.

The meeting was first reported by the Washington Post, who said the Trump family members were invited by the RNC and that their appearance there bothered at least two prominent Republicans over questions of whether the president’s sons should be involved in high-level party discussions considering they run the Trump real estate business

The Post reported that some other people familiar with the meeting thought it was fine for Trump family members who helped with the president’s election campaign to offer their views ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential race.

[ABC News]

Trump Is Not Even Pretending to Keep Promise to Donate All Hotel Profits From Foreign Governments

Just before taking office, President Donald Trump promised to donate all profits earned from foreign governments back to the U.S. Treasury.

But MSNBC has learned the Trump Organization is not tracking all possible payments it receives from foreign governments, according to new admissions by Trump representatives. By failing to track foreign payments it receives, the company will be hard-pressed to meet Trump’s pledge to donate foreign profits and could even increase its legal exposure.

The Trump Organization does not “attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity,” according to a new company pamphlet. The policy suggests that it is up to foreign governments, not Trump hotels, to determine whether they self-report their business.

That policy matches what several sources told MSNBC — Trump Organization employees are not soliciting information about whether reservations or business is from a foreign government.

Why foreign profits could be a problem for Trump

Since Trump’s election, critics have argued that the complex nature of his businesses opened up vast potential for conflicts of interest both at home and abroad. Of particular concern was the likelihood of foreign governments spending money at Trump properties. The Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution bars foreign gifts to the president, and an open federal case in New York alleges the Trump Organization is in violation of that clause.

Back in January, Trump and his team said they did not believe renting a hotel room constituted a violation. Still, Trump pledged to track and donate all profits at his companies from foreign government travel and commerce.

Sheri Dillon, an attorney for the Trump Organization, said during a news conference the president-elect had directed that hotel profits from foreign governments would be donated to the U.S. Treasury because “he wants to do more than what the Constitution requires.”

“President-elect Trump has decided, and we are announcing today, that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels to the United States Treasury,” she said.

According to the new pamphlet, the Trump Organization does not plan to calculate foreign government profits, but rather to estimate them.

“To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical,” the pamphlet states.

Congress to get involved

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the policy as written is insufficient.

“Under the policy outlined in this pamphlet, foreign governments could provide prohibited emoluments to President Trump, for example through organizations such as RT, the propaganda arm of the Russian government,” Cummings wrote in a new letter to the Trump Organization. He received the pamphlet from Trump’s chief compliance counsel.

“Those payments would not be tracked in any way and would be hidden from the American public,” Cummings added, pressing the Trump Organization to brief Congress on the matter by June 2.

Trump Organization spokesperson Amanda Miller said Wednesday in response, “We have received and are in the process of reviewing the letter. We take these matters seriously and are fully committed to complying with all of our legal and ethical obligations.”

A lawyer involved in the emoluments case against Trump who asked not to be identified said the company’s approach violates the Constitution’s ban on the president receiving foreign gifts.

Trump officials have argued there is no legal obligation to rebuff any foreign payments, but said they are donating foreign government profits in an abundance of caution.

The newly released pamphlet states the company will donate profits from its “wholly-owned properties” and profits from “management fees that is deemed attributed from foreign governments’ patronage,” and make an annual donation to the U.S. Treasury “in one lump sum payment.”

A Trump representative said that “the pertinent accounting rules” are well understood in the hospitality industry. But experts told MSNBC that there is no standard accounting system to track profits from foreign dignitaries.

Most hotels in the United States prepare financial statements in accordance with the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry. While the system tracks customers, it does not track guests’ professions.

In theory, Trump Hotels could create specialized codes to flag when a foreign diplomat books a room or buys hotel services.

“The margins are pretty standard for a hotel,” said Joel Feigenheimer, a hospitality professor at Florida International University, so the company could track the profit margin on each foreign government booking.

But tracking by accounting code is just one small piece of the pie. Then the companies have to decide how to determine who represents a foreign government.

“What is the proof that they are or are not a foreign dignitary?” asked Toni Repetti, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Harrah College of Hotel Administration. “How do you know? There’s no universal list.”

“If someone doesn’t want you to know who they are — whether it’s a government, or a girlfriend or boyfriend who is cheating — you don’t register under your real name,” said Feigenheimer. “There’s no reason for these people to register. It is not the Chinese’s problem if they are staying at the Trump hotels.”

The new Trump policy, however, leaves that reporting up to foreign governments.

Who knows who’s staying at the hotels?

One approach that Trump hotels could use is already employed by many hotel chains — the well-known “government rate” offered for U.S. government employees.

The State Department issues diplomats “mission tax exemption cards,” which provide a point-of-sale exemption from sales tax on goods and services, including hotel rooms, across the United States. The Trump organization could keep track of foreign government payments based on which guests are using the mission tax exemption card.

Jim Abrams, a legal adviser with the California Hotel & Lodging Association, suggested that the Trump Organization post on its hotel websites a notice to foreign dignitaries asking that they notify the hotel if they plan to book a room. That would be the cleanest way to do it,” he said.

If the Trump Organization has not already started tracking foreign government diplomats who stay at Trump hotels, Repetti predicted that it would be “a nightmare” to gather the information.

“It would be almost impossible,” she said. “Someone is going to have to come in and go through every single reservation.”

The Trump Organization’s decision to use estimates could also be practically and legally problematic.

The term “profit” can have different meanings, which impacts what the Treasury receives.

“[While] net income is defined by generally accepted accounting principles, the term profit is not,” said Ralph Miller, co-author of the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry. “It’s revenue minus costs, but which costs and at what level and over what period of time?”

Abrams also discussed the problem of defining what is “profit.” “If I was a cynical person, I’d say they’d take the one measure that puts the least amount of money in the treasury.”

Another sticking point is how to calculate expenses. Typically, hotels have a wide variety of expenses — such as electricity to keep on the lobby lights, heat for guest rooms, interest payments on loans, property taxes, the hotel chef’s salary, to name just a few of the costs to run the hotel.

Depending on how the Trump Organization includes those costs in calculating profit, the size of the donated profits could change significantly.

“It’s just very difficult to try and determine in advance what the calculation may look like,” Miller said.

Ultimately, there may not be any significant donation to the Treasury, said Abrams.

“If he is only giving away the net income and then claiming a deduction, then he hasn’t fully given away all his earnings from activities,” said University of Pennsylvania Tax Professor Michael Knoll, who cautioned, “We have no idea what he is going to do unless there is a lot more disclosure.”

How much foreign business?

There is no uniform data on how many foreign diplomats stay in American hotels annually. However, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reported that in 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available, 74.8 million international travelers came to the United States. The association said that international visitors accounted for about 20 percent of all lodging sales. The average length of stay for overseas hotel visitors was about 10 days.

There are many Trump-linked hotels that could scoop up some of that business. Thirty two hotels, resorts and golf clubs bear Trump’s name, including the iconic Mar-a-Lago club, which doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 after Trump won the election.

Records show the ownership structure of his resorts and hotels widely varies. In some instances, the Trump Organization licenses Trump’s name to developers for a one-time flat fee or for a share of profits. In other instances, his ownership stake in the hotels is hidden under layers of shell companies. In many cases, the Trump Organization receives some profits but is not an owner of the building itself.

“He learned his lesson about over-leveraging and a lot of how he invested in real estate was licensing his name to other developers,” said Barry LaPides, a partner at Berger Singerman, who practices complex commercial real estate.

At Trump Hotel SOHO, the owners of the property, a Los Angeles-based real estate investment group, pay the Trump Organization 5.75 percent of the hotel’s annual operating revenues, according to a report in the New York Daily News. In Chicago, Trump owns a Trump hotel through a series of LLCs (limited liability companies). The LLC agreements are not public.

Public reporting, although incomplete, has indicated Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., has received business from foreign governments like Bahrain, Kuwait, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia.

“He knows who is staying here,” Libowitz said of Trump.

No matter what reasons foreign governments have for doing business with the Trump Organization, no court has ever ruled on whether their commerce amounts to a gift under the Constitution. That is because no president has ever overseen such a large company while in the White House.

The Trump Organization’s approach may expand its legal liability, adding to headaches in court if a judge finds this foreign commerce is a gift. Or it may not matter, in the end, if courts rule that the Constitution does not require a president to reject this kind of benefit.

The next round of the battle over Trump’s empire will play out in a federal court in New York, where Trump’s critics are asking for a ruling that would prevent his companies from taking not only profits from foreign governments, but any of their business at all.

“You don’t get to violate the Constitution and say that you’re only going to address some instances and not others because it’s inconvenient,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

[MSNBC]

Man Behind Flynn’s Turkey Lobbying Holds Conference At Trump Hotel

A conference at the Trump International Hotel is putting President Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest into the spotlight again.

The Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations usually happens at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C. but is moving to the president’s hotel this year, right down the street from the White House. Organizers say the Ritz wasn’t available.

One of the groups hosting the event is run by Ekim Alptekin. He also founded the firm that paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government.

Alptekin himself has ties to the Turkish government.

There are ethical concerns here, notably from the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clause prohibits presidents from accepting any sort of personal benefit from foreign governments.

And since Trump still has a stake in the hotel, he directly profits from the guests who rent space there — including conference hosts with ties to foreign governments.

The conference’s website says CEOs, entrepreneurs, and key members of the U.S. Congress and the Turkish Parliament will be attending.

[ABC News]

In a Beijing Ballroom, Kushner Family Sells $500,000 ‘Investor Visa’ to Wealthy Chinese

The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big — and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you.

That was the message delivered Saturday by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s sister to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors, renewing questions about the Kushner family’s business ties to China.

Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at the Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey real estate project to secure what’s known as an investor visa.

The EB-5 immigrant investor visa program, which allows foreign investors to invest in U.S. projects that create jobs and then apply to immigrate, has been used by both the Trump and Kushner family businesses.

But President Trump’s vow to crack down on immigration, as well as criticism from members of Congress, has led to questions about the future of a program known here as the “golden visa.”

The EB-5 has been extremely popular among rich Chinese who are eager to get their families — and their wealth — out of the country, though the fact that some move their money out illegally has made the program unpopular with the Chinese government, too.

In the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton on Saturday, Chinese investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case the rules change. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said.

The woman identified as “Jared’s sister” was believed to be Nicole Kushner, who is involved in the family business, not Dara Kushner, who generally stays out of the spotlight. But the woman’s face was not clearly visible from the back of the ballroom, where reporters were told to remain.

Saturday’s event in Beijing was hosted by the Chinese company Qiaowai, which connects U.S. companies with Chinese investors. The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

Qiaowai is working with Kushner to secure funding for Kushner 1, a real estate project in New Jersey. Promotional materials tout the buildings’ proximity to Manhattan and note that the project will create more than 6,000 jobs.

“This project has stable funding, creates sufficient jobs and guarantees the safety of investors’ money,” one description reads.

Although there was no visible reference to Trump, the materials noted the Kushner family’s “celebrity” status. Wang Yun, a Chinese investor who attended the event, said the Kushner family’s ties to Trump, via son-in-law Jared, were a part of the project’s appeal — but also a source of concern.

“Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s family, of course it is still affiliated,” Wang.

Wang reasoned that the link to Trump would be a boon if the presidency goes well but could be disastrous if it does not: “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most likely to be impeached president in American history. That’s why I doubt this project.”

Many of the people who attended the event declined to be interviewed, citing privacy concerns, or were blocked by organizers from speaking to the news media.

Though the event was publicly advertised in Beijing, the hosts were exceptionally anxious about the presence of reporters.

Journalists were initially seated at the back of the ballroom, but as the presentations got underway, a public-relations representative asked The Washington Post to leave, saying the presence of foreign reporters threatened the “stability” of the event.

At one point, organizers grabbed a reporter’s phone and backpack to try to force that person to leave. Later, as investors started leaving the ballroom, organizers physically surrounded attendees to stop them from giving interviews.

Asked why reporters were asked to leave, a public-relations representative, who declined to identify herself, said simply, “This is not the story we want.”

(h/t Washington Post)

Reality

Other people at the event tweeting pictures of the booth.

Government-Funded Website Promotes Ivanka Trump’s New Book

Weeks after the State Department used its website and social media platforms to promote President Donald Trump’s private club in Florida, taxpayer-funded Voice of America is promoting Ivanka Trump’s new book on its website and Twitter account.

The link in the tweet is to an Associated Press article reposted on the Voice of America’s website. The piece characterizes Ivanka’s new book, entitled “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” as embodying the new White House employee’s transition from “sassy to serious.”

The book “offers earnest advice for women on advancing in the workplace, balancing family and professional life and seeking personal fulfilment [sic],” the piece notes. “She is donating the proceeds to charity and has opted not to do any publicity to avoid any suggestion that she is improperly using her White House platform.”

But the article and VOA’s promotion of it serve as publicity in and of itself. The article also doesn’t say which charity Ivanka plans to donate her book proceeds to, or how people will be able to verify she actually did so.

As we learned during the campaign, thanks largely to the reporting of the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, Ivanka’s father’s boasts about his charitable giving were grossly exaggerated. After he was elected president, Trump — who, like Ivanka, still owns his business — vowed to donate all profits from foreign governments.

But Trump has provided no evidence that he’s actually following through. The House Oversight Committee recently requested documents from the Trump Organization to prove his vow wasn’t just a bait-and-switch.

The degree to which Ivanka is actually following through on her plan to separate from the business she still owns while she serves in the White House is also a matter of trust (or lack thereof). She turned over day-to-day management of her company to her top executive and transferred its assets to a trust overseen by relatives of her husband, sparking concerns that all she has to do is pick up the phone to exert influence.

The New York Times reported that Ivanka “will receive regular financial reports on her company,” just as her father receives reports regarding the Trump Organization.

Shortly after the election, Ivanka’s brand marketed a $10,000 bracelet she wore during a 60 Minutes appearance.

Norm Eisen, former Obama administration ethics czar, tweeted that the VOA’s promoting of Ivanka’s book constitutes a violation of federal law.

This isn’t the first time Ivanka’s business interests have created controversy since the inauguration. On February 9, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway offered a shameless plug for Ivanka Trump’s brand during a Fox & Friends interview. Conway’s endorsement prompted the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to send the White House a letter asking for an investigation and recommending that Conway be disciplined, but the White House decided to let it slide.

After the State Department promoted Mar-a-Lago, Eisen told ThinkProgress that the White House’s refusal to discipline Conway would likely embolden future violations of 2635.702, a federal statute that prohibits federal employees from using public offices for private gain.

VOA’s promotion of Ivanka’s book comes as concerns mount that the government-funded media outlet is on its way to becoming an international Trump propaganda outlet — a possibility that became starkly apparent when the VOA provided stenography of Press Secretary’s Sean Spicer’s evidence-free claims that Trump’s inauguration was the best attended of all time (it wasn’t) on the first full day of Trump’s presidency.

As the New Republic reported last month, “A month after Trump was elected, Republicans in Congress changed the VOA’s governing structure, replacing its independent and bipartisan board of governors with a CEO appointed directly by the president. And in January, the Trump administration dispatched two young staffers to monitor the VOA’s operations and assist with the transition: Matthew Ciepielowski, who hails from the Koch-founded group Americans for Prosperity, and Matthew Schuck, who worked as a staff writer for the Daily Surge, a right-wing news site that traffics in ‘alternative facts.’”

“Taken together, the moves indicate that Trump is poised to turn the government news service — which reaches a global audience of 236 million every week through its radio and TV broadcasts — into a mouthpiece for his personal brand,” the New Republic added.

(h/t Think Progress)

 

Trump’s Tax Plan: Low Rate for Corporations, and for Companies Like His

President Trump plans to unveil a tax cut blueprint on Wednesday that would apply a vastly reduced, 15 percent business tax rate not only to corporations but also to companies that now pay taxes through the personal income tax code — from mom-and-pop businesses to his own real estate empire, according to several people briefed on the proposal.

The package would also increase the standard deduction for individuals, providing a modest cut for middle-income people and simplifying the process of filing tax returns, according to people briefed on its details. That proposal is opposed by home builders and real estate agents, who fear it would diminish the importance of the mortgage interest deduction. And it is likely to necessitate eliminating or curbing other popular deductions, a politically risky pursuit.

As of late Tuesday, the plan did not include Mr. Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure program, two of the people said, and it jettisoned a House Republican proposal to impose a substantial tax on imports, known as a border adjustment tax, which would have raised billions of dollars to help offset the cost of the cuts.

With that decision, Mr. Trump acceded to pressure from retailers and conservative advocacy groups, but the move could deepen the challenge of passing a broad tax overhaul in Congress, where concern about the swelling federal deficit runs high. His plan would put off the difficult part of a tax overhaul: closing loopholes and increasing other taxes to limit the impact of tax cuts on the budget deficit.

Republicans are likely to embrace the plan’s centerpiece, substantial tax reductions for businesses large and small, even as they push back against the jettisoning of their border adjustment tax. The 15 percent rate would apply both to corporations, which now pay 35 percent, and to a broad range of firms known as pass-through entities — including hedge funds, real estate concerns like Mr. Trump’s and large partnerships — that currently pay taxes at individual rates, which top off at 39.6 percent. That hews closely to the proposal Mr. Trump championed during his campaign.

But Mr. Trump’s decision to extend the corporate tax cut to real estate conglomerates like his own will give Democrats a tailor-made line of attack.

“Yesterday, we learned President Trump wants to slash the corporate tax rate, even though corporations already dodge most of their tax responsibilities while making record profits,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of the liberal Americans for Tax Fairness. “Today, we find out it’s even worse. In trying to slash taxes for ‘pass through’ business entities, Trump is seeking to dramatically reduce his own tax bill.”

The people who were briefed on the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity before a formal announcement that Mr. Trump has said will come on Wednesday, three days before he reaches the 100-day mark in office with nothing to show for his promises to cut taxes or revamp the health care system.

The border adjustment tax may be revisited later but was considered too controversial to include now.

Spokeswomen for the White House and the Treasury Department declined to comment on the details of the plan before Wednesday’s announcement, which is expected to contain only broad principles, leaving unanswered crucial questions about the financing of the package and the process for advancing it through Congress.

Emerging from a meeting at the Capitol where he briefed Republican congressional leaders on Tuesday evening, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said participants had “very, very productive discussions” and were united in their desire to accomplish a tax overhaul this year.

The broad contours of the plan seemed to please conservatives who had worried in recent weeks that Mr. Trump, who has dropped or modified many of the major proposals of his campaign, was drifting away from the plan he had laid out for voters.

“Conservatives are going to be very happy with this plan, because it achieves a lot of the objectives that we’ve wanted: lower business taxes, simplification and not a major tax increase that is unacceptable,” said Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation who advised Mr. Trump’s campaign and helped craft his tax proposal.

But Mr. Moore conceded that finding ways to offset the large revenue reductions envisioned in the blueprint would be a challenge.

“That’s the unknown right now, is whether there is some sort of pay-for for any of this,” he said.

Government officials crafting the tax plans are aware of the math problem, one of the people involved in the proposal said, but they see the 15 percent corporate tax rate as a compelling starting point for negotiations. Mr. Trump may yet reveal other tactics for replenishing lost tax revenue, someone who has been briefed on the plans said.

But the final plans remain very much in flux. At midafternoon on Tuesday, for instance, it was still not clear whether personal income-tax rate cuts or an increase in the standardized deduction for individuals would be part of Wednesday’s announcement.

The demise of the border adjustment tax was met with relief by Republicans in the Senate, who had been cool to it from the start.

On Tuesday, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said it was safe to conclude that the provision was “not going anywhere” because of skepticism in the Senate.

But Mr. Cornyn described Mr. Trump’s plan to cut the corporate income tax to 15 percent as “pretty aggressive,” with unknown consequences for the deficit.

Other Republican senators appeared ready to embrace a tax proposal that adds to the deficit in the name of jump-starting the economy. Republicans appear intent on using parliamentary rules that would block Democrats from filibustering the plan in the Senate, but would also put a time limit on the tax cuts.

“I’m open to getting this country moving,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. “I’m not so sure we have to go that route, but if we do, I can live with it.”

Most analysts say the notion that Mr. Trump’s tax cuts will pay for themselves is unrealistic. A Tax Foundation analysis concluded this week that, on its own, a 15 percent corporate tax rate would reduce federal revenue by about $2 trillion over a decade. To make up for those losses without raising taxes elsewhere, the economy would have to become 5 percent larger.

Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said he was also open to tax cuts with an expiration date if that was the only way to get them passed without Democratic support, pointing to President George W. Bush’s cuts.

“You look at the tax cuts from 2002 and 2003 — well over 90 percent of them became permanent law,” Mr. Blunt said.

Democrats have criticized Republicans for failing to engage with them on a tax overhaul. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, said he would be open to working with Republicans on a plan that would bring home corporate profits parked overseas and use some of the funds to pay for infrastructure.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Tuesday that he intended to pass tax legislation through budget rules that would block a filibuster. He accused Democrats of being more interested in “wealth transfers” than in spurring economic growth.

So far, the Senate has taken a back seat in tax discussions. The abandonment of the border adjustment tax will deal a blow to the comprehensive rewrite of the tax code championed by Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Brady said Tuesday that he would press ahead with the import tax, not merely because it would make up for lost revenue but because it would protect American jobs.

However, he acknowledged that his goal of producing legislation before summer was slipping.

“I’m less focused on the month than on the year for tax reform, which would be this year,” Mr. Brady said.

(h/t New York Times)

State Department Posts on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Raise Ethics Concern

Trump Mar a Lago resort

A glowing description of President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago — calling it the “winter White House” — was posted on State Department websites, bringing criticism from ethics watchdogs and Democrats.

The item, published ahead of an early April meeting with China’s president at the Palm Beach club, recounted the club’s history and Trump’s purchase and gilded redecoration of the property where he’s spent half his weekends since taking office.

Under the heading “A Dream Deferred” — drawing on a famous line from the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” — it said the original socialite owner wanted Mar-a-Lago to be a retreat for American presidents but notes it didn’t happen until Trump won the election.

The text appeared on the website for Share America, a State Department platform intended to “spark discussion and debate on important topics;” the website for the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom and the Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy in Albania.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was among those taking to Twitter to question whether the posts violated government ethics rules.

The State Department initially declined to comment on the posts, but later unpublished them and said, “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”

Three ethics watchdogs who reviewed the posts before they were taken down told NBC News they were troubling.

“They represent violations of a federal ethics regulation which prohibits the use of public office to endorse a product or enterprise,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor at Washington University Law.

“Calling it the ‘winter White House’ appears to suggest that Mar-a-Lago has an official governmental role, which would appear to provide a governmental endorsement.”

Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the post “reads almost like an ad for Mar-a-Lago.”

“If they weren’t trying to drive business there, you have to wonder what they were doing,” said Libowitz, who has previously sued Trump over other alleged ethics violations.

John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation said it didn’t matter that the context for the posts was Trump’s meeting with China’s Xi Jinping.

“Publishing promotional materials for the President’s private business is clearly inappropriate, whether he is using it for official business or not,” he said. “There is only one White House. If you’re telling the story of Mar-a-Lago, it’s the president’s private business.”

Mar-a-Lago has been a lightning rod for those accusing the Trump administration of conflicts of interest.

While Trump has turned over control of his businesses to his sons, critics have pointed out that initiation fees were doubled to $200,000 after his election and that the president’s frequent appearances there could provide unique access to him for those who can pay.

An encounter between Trump and two former Colombian presidents, who were invited by a Mar-a-Lago member, also raised questions — with the White House denying there was a secret meeting to discuss opposition to a Colombian peace deal with revolutionaries.

As NBC News has reported, since his January inauguration, Trump has spent seven of 14 weekends at Mar-a-Lago and at least 28 percent of his term traveling to or staying at the estate.

(h/t NBC News)

Update

The State Department has since removed the post.

President Trump Held Secret Pay to Play Mar-a-Lago Meeting with Two Colombian Ex-Presidents

President Trump secretly met with two former Colombian presidents critical of an Obama-era peace agreement between their home country’s sitting government and a far-left rebel group, according to a report.

Without listing it in his daily schedule or disclosing it to reporters, Trump met with Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana at his Mar-a-Lago estate last weekend, the Miami Herald first reported on Thursday.

The stealthy meeting was apparently facilitated by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been openly skeptical of the landmark peace agreement between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for brokering the peace deal, which prompted outrage from some Colombians who say the FARC rebels are getting away with murder.

President Obama last year dedicated $450 million in foreign aid to help solidify the peace deal, which effectively ended a bloody 50-year power struggle between the leftist guerilla group and government forces. Obama faced backlash over the move, especially from Republicans.

It’s unclear what was discussed during last week’s Mar-a-Lago meeting, though speculation swirled that it might have been facilitated in an effort to tilt Trump’s opinion in a certain direction ahead of his sit-down with President Santos next month.

Santos is expected to ask Trump to make good on the Obama administration’s $450 million pledge.

The White House initially declined to discuss the matter, setting off a wave of speculation among Colombian media outlets.

A Trump administration spokeswoman eventually confirmed that the meeting occurred, but downplayed its significance, claiming that the two former Colombian heads of state just happened to be at the club at the same time as President Trump.

“There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the Colombian presidents were in the company of a Mar-a-Lago club member.

But Uribe and Pastrana, who are both staunch opponents of the peace deal with FARC, had a completely different take on the meet.

“Thanks to @POTUS @realDonaldTrump for the cordial and very frank conversation about problems and prospects of Colombia and the region,” Pastrana tweeted in Spanish after the meeting.

Uribe’s former vice president, Francisco Santos, echoed those comments, telling the Herald that the meeting was concise but to the point.

“We’re very worried,” Santos told the newspaper. “You have a perfect storm, and the (Santos) government says everything is going fine and we’re living in peace. And that’s not true.”

Trump’s secret meeting raises a number of questions, including his inclination to meet with people who are either connected to, or willing to themselves pay the $200,000 Mar-a-Lago membership fee.

Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., Juan Carlos Pinzon, criticized Uribe and Pastrana for going through back channels to discuss sensitive matters with Trump ahead of Santos’ visit.

“We need to address these issues at home,” Pinzon told a Colombian radio station. “We need to wash our dirty laundry at home.”

(h/t New York Daily News)

Reality

President Trump has been in office for 91 days. He has spent 25 of them at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, often mingling with members and guests.

Since the election, the cost of membership has doubled to $200,000.

Mr. Trump often railed against pay-to-play politics on the campaign trail, repeatedly slamming a “broken system.”

Yet the access at Mar-a-Lago is unparalleled. Last weekend, two former presidents of Colombia were guests and quietly met with Mr. Trump.

Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana later tweeted about the meeting, thanking Mr. Trump for “the cordial and very frank conversation about the problems and prospects in Colombia and the region.”

The two men are opponents of current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has not yet met with Mr. Trump. The encounter was not on Mr. Trump’s public schedule.

Five days later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer seemed surprised to hear about it.

“I’m just saying I’m unaware of the circumstances,” Spicer told reporters.

The White House later said the men “briefly said hello when the president walked past them.”

Club members have posted photos with military officers and even with the president himself.

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