Trump considering plan to privatize Afghanistan War

President Trump has reportedly shown renewed interest in a proposal by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to privatize the United States’ war in Afghanistan, according to an NBC News.

NBC News on Friday, citing current and former senior administration officials, reported the proposition would replace troops with private military contractors who would work for a government liaison, who would in turn report directly to the president.

Trump’s “advisers are worried his impatience with the Afghanistan conflict will cause him to seriously consider proposals like Prince’s or abruptly order a complete U.S. withdrawal,” according to the report.In an interview with NBC News, Prince said he thinks Trump’s advisers are painting “as rosy a picture as they can” in the war effort while claiming that peace is near.

NBC News reports that administration officials often emphasize political resolutions with the Taliban and downplay military frustrations on the ground.

Prince also told NBC News that he will soon launch a media campaign to bring the White House around to his proposal.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council pushed back at the report, telling NBC News that the president is committed to the strategy he signed off on last year and that “no such proposal from Erik Prince is under consideration.”

The proposal, if implemented, would be sure to raise eyebrows on ethical grounds. First, Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Second, Blackwater, now known as Academi, has a fraught history with human rights following its employees’ involvement in the killings of unarmed civilians in Iraq.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai limited the use of contractors in Afghanistan in 2010, a policy the current government would have to overturn for this proposal to be viable.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

[The Hill]

Trump using Scotland visit to promote his golf course — which is losing millions

President Donald Trump is running an “informercial” for his struggling Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Financial records show that the president’s Trump Turnberry resort has lost money since the New York City real estate mogul purchased the golf course in 2014.

“In fact, the Turnberry operation has lost tens of millions of pounds since he purchased it, filings in Britain show: about £17 million in 2016, the last year for which such comprehensive records are available,” the Times reported. “For 2017, Mr. Trump’s government ethics filing discloses only how much revenue the course generated — $20.4 million — not whether it had earned a profit.”

The commander-in-chief also cited his investment in claiming that Brexit would be good for his struggling business.

“When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly,” Trump publicly concluded.

Ethics watchdogs worry about Trump mixing private business during his public trip to Scotland.

Eisen, the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) blasted Trump hyping his struggling business during his taxpayer-funded trip.

“Through this trip to Turnberry,” Mr. Eisen said, “the president is forcing his foreign hosts and the United States to spend enormous amounts of money so that he can get free advertising for his resort.”

“He’s the master of earned media,” Eisen noted. “It’s an important part of the way he won the presidency, and that’s what he’s doing here.”

As Trump arrived in Scotland, demonstrators mobilized to protest his visit.

The BBC reported that a power paraglider was flying lose to Trump Turnberry with a banner reading, “Trump: Well below par.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Defends Golfing in Scotland: It’s ‘My Primary Form of Exercise!’

President Trump on Saturday tweeted his plans for the weekend during his trip to Europe, saying that he will “hopefully” golf, which he referred to as his “primary form of exercise.”

“I have arrived in Scotland and will be at Trump Turnberry for two days of meetings, calls and hopefully, some golf – my primary form of exercise!” Trump tweeted. “The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!”

He also highlighted his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Trump owns two private golf resorts in Scotland, including Turnberry.

The president is known to be a frequent golfer, often spending his weekends at his private golf clubs in Virginia, near Washington, D.C., or in Florida. He has spent 127 days of his presidency at his golf properties, according to a NBC News tracker.

Trump said earlier this year that he gets “more exercise than people think” after his then-White House doctor recommended that he exercise more.

“I get exercise. I mean I walk, I this, I that,” Trump said at the time. “I run over to a building next door. I get more exercise than people think.”

He also referred to his playing golf as a form of exercise, but added that he usually uses a golf cart on the course because of the amount of time it can talk to walk it.

“I don’t want to spend the time,” Trump said.

[The Hill]

EPA’s Pruitt Made Young Staffers Pay for His Hotel Stays, Then Refused to Reimburse Them

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, already famously scandal-ridden, made even more ridiculously ethically questionable decisions than were previously known, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Two top Pruitt aides spoke to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about even more of what the administrator asked staffers to do for his personal gain, including pressuring them to arrange first-class travel for him and to find a six-figure job for his wife – all this against the counsel of many of his allies.

The new information comes after EPA’s chief ethics officer, Kevin Minoli, told the Office of Government Ethics last week that he thought the investigation into Pruitt should be broadened, saying: “additional potential issues regarding Mr. Pruitt have come to my attention through sources within the EPA and media reports,” the Washington Post reports.

Amazingly, a current and former EPA official also revealed that Pruitt would ask his assistants to put hotel reservations on their own personal credit cards – not his – on a routine basis.

According to former deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, during the presidential transition one staffer charged approximately $600 to her credit card for a hotel booking for Pruitt’s family. The staffer later approached Pruitt’s chief of staff to explain that the period for transition reimbursements had expired and that Pruitt had not covered the bill.

As the Hill first reported, Pruitt’s chief of staff ended up giving her $600 in cash – out of his own pocket.

“She literally went to Ryan and said, ‘Look, Pruitt needs to pay me back for this. It was $600 bucks.’ And Ryan took six $100 dollar bills out of his pocket,” Chmielewski told the Hill last month.

Scotty, for the love of God, man. There’s only so long the entirety of civilization can look down upon you. I hear in Oklahoma, the wind comes right behind the rain – neither of which may be around for too much longer if you stick around the Capitol.

[Mediaite]

Trump’s IRS nominee didn’t disclose properties in Trump-branded hotel

President Donald Trump’s pick to run the IRS, tax lawyer Chuck Rettig, owns properties at the Trump International Hotel Waikiki and Tower.

He’d previously disclosed his 50 percent stake in a pair of Honolulu rental units, but not their specific location. That detail was discussed later, at a June 21 meeting with congressional staff, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO.

Trump typically gets fees on sales for licensing his name.

The document was circulated Wednesday to Senate Finance Committee members ahead of their hearing on Rettig’s nomination, scheduled for Thursday.

“The nominee did disclose these properties, but not their location,” the memo said of Rettig’s original answers to financial disclosure questions that ask nominees to list assets and sources of income that exceed $1,000.

The revelation about the Trump-branded hotel seems certain to come up when Rettig testifies.

“Committee staff raised this at the nominee’s June 21st due diligence meeting,” the memo said. “The nominee plans to provide more detail on his Committee Questionnaire to include the full name of the property.”

[Politico]

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]

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

EPA paid $1,560 for 12 fountain pens, emails show

A close aide to Scott Pruitt last year ordered a set of 12 fountain pens that cost the Environmental Protection Agency $1,560, according to agency documents.

Each $130 silver pen bore the agency’s seal and Administrator Pruitt’s signature, according to the documents, which were obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Yes, please order,” an aide wrote.

The order from the Washington shop Tiny Jewel Box also included a set of journals that cost $1,670.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the pens were similar to purchases made by Pruitt’s predecessors “for the purpose of serving as gifts to the Administrator’s foreign counterparts and dignitaries upon his meeting with them.”

Purchasing records show the EPA under the Obama administration made a $2,952 purchase from the same shop in 2009 for “non-monetary awards for Administrator.”

The purchase stands out not only for the cost but also because it was approved by a close aide who Pruitt described in congressional testimony last month as “longtime friend.”

Pruitt has sought to distance from the agency’s controversial spending, including a $43,000 phone booth in his office. He has recently blamed some purchases on “decisions made by career staff,” as he told the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, this week.

Pruitt’s actions are currently under scrutiny by investigators at the EPA inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and Congress. At least 12 investigations have been opened.

Other emails released by the agency and obtained by the Sierra Club show the same aide working on Pruitt’s apartment search during work hours. In her first year on the job at EPA, she received two raises that boosted her pay by 72%.

The pen purchase was first reported by The Washington Post.

[CNN]

Trump Blasts ‘Fake News Media’ for Not Reporting on AT&T’s Planned Merger With Time Warner

On Friday, President Donald Trump blasted the “fake news media” for not reporting on litigation revolving around AT&T’s planned merger with Time Warner in a tweet that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Why doesn’t the Fake News Media state that the Trump Administration’s Anti-Trust Division has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner in a currently ongoing Trial,” Trump wrote. “Such a disgrace in reporting!”

While his exact intent was not clear, Trump was likely reacting to reports that his lawyer Michael Cohen was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by AT&T for a consulting gig that actually amounted to Cohen peddling his access to Trump.

The AT&T payment was also significant because Essential Consulting, the shell consulting firm Cohen set up to receive payments, also happens to be the firm that paid Stormy Daniels the $130,000 in hush money.

AT&T has since said it regretted hiring Cohenand claimed the damage to their reputation will not hurt their planned merger.

So far, Trump, not known for clarification,  has not issued a follow-up tweet.

[Mediaite]

Cohen promised Novartis access to Trump

President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen promised the pharmaceutical company Novartis that they could have access to President Trump and his inner circle if they signed a contract with him, a Novartis employee told Stat on Wednesday.

The employee told Stat that Cohen contacted then-chief executive officer Joe Jimenez last year, promising that he could get Novartis access to both Trump and top administration officials. Jimenez then reportedly ordered company officials to make a deal with Cohen.

“With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players,” the employee told the publication. “We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

Novartis on Wednesday in a statement said that it hired Cohen in February 2017 for consulting services, paying him a total of $1.2 million for a one-year contract.

The company also said that special counsel Robert Mueller had contacted it last year over the payments to Cohen.

“With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

However, Novartis said that it concluded that Cohen would “be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to US healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further.”

The contract was not terminated and Cohen continued to be paid in monthly installments through the end of the agreement.

The payments to Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, from Novartis were first detailed in a report by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti on Tuesday. Daniels is currently suing Cohen for defamation.

Cohen arranged a payment to Daniels to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. Daniels is also suing Trump to void the nondisclosure agreement about the alleged affair.

[The Hill]

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