Trump Defends Senators Under Fire for Pre-Corona Stock Dumps: They’re ‘Very Honorable People’

During a Covid-19 press conference on Friday, President Donald Trump defended the Senators who dumped stocks in January, after a briefing on the coronavirus.

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked the president, “are you concerned about members of congress that may have used information they learned on updates to sell stocks and profits of this?”

“I saw some names, I know all of them. I know everyone mentioned Dianne Feinstein, I guess, and a couple of others. I don’t know too much about what it is about, but I find them to all be very honorable people, that’s all I know, and they said they did nothing wrong. I find them, the whole group, very honorable,” Trump responded.

“So, the whole group would include Richard Burr, the head of the Intelligence Committee,  and it also would include Senator Kelly Loeffler, so the question is whether or not they should be investigated for that behavior?” Francesca Chambers, White House correspondent for McClatchy then asked the president.

Trump then attempted to place blame on Senator Dianne Feinstein — the lone Democrat of the five senators who dumped stocks.

“Well, it also includes Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, you didn’t mention her name,” Trump remarked during the press conference. “Why didn’t you mention her name? I think she’s a really honorable person, by the way,”

“Any Senator?” Chambers pressed.

“I don’t know, because I would have to look at it. Possibly, but I find them to be honorable people,” Trump answered.

[Mediaite]

Jared Kushner Cashes in on Investment Thanks to Tax Breaks He and Ivanka Trump Lobbied to Pass

Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner last month sold his stake in a company that invested in Opportunity Zones, a designation created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This means Kushner will benefit from tax breaks that he and his wife Ivanka Trump both lobbied to pass as part of the 2017 tax overhaul.

According to the Associated Press, the Office of Government Ethics on Monday released a public filing showing that Kushner had requested and received permission to defer capital gains on the sale of his stake in Cadre, a digital platform that allows investors to buy stakes in commercial properties.

Kushner, who is also a senior advisor to the president, founded Cadre in 2014 with his brother Joshua Kushner and current CEO and Goldman Sachs alum Ryan Williams.

While the exact amount Cadre invested in Opportunity  Zones is not known, Cadre had expressed plans to invest heavily in the 8,760 designated Qualified Opportunity Zones.

The financial disclosure report Kushner filed with federal ethics officials last year estimated that his stake in Cadre was worth between $25 and $50 million. His shares in Cadre were previously valued at around $5 million, according to financial disclosures from three years ago.

The sale of Kushner’s stake in Cadre came amid increased scrutiny from potential investors of the conflicts of interest associated with his involvement in the real estate venture. Bloomberg reported last year that Saudi-backed SoftBank declined to invest in the company after Kushner refused to divest from the firm.

“I would be lying if I said the political angle wasn’t frustrating or concerning,” Williams told Forbes last year. “There are people who won’t work with us, and we get that.”

A Cadre spokesperson told The Real Deal last month that the company planned to scale back investing in Opportunity Zones.

[Law and Crime]

Trump Got Tons of Campaign Cash Before Handing Out Pardon

President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted clemency to 11 people, including several convicted felons who are either Fox News regulars or have been championed by the president’s favorite cable-news network. And in another case, the family of one pardon recipient dished out massive contributions to the president’s re-election campaign just months before Trump’s clemency spree.

Among those granted pardons or sentence commutations were former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempting to sell former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat; former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was sentenced to four years in 2010 for tax fraud and lying to the feds; and Michael Milken, the “junk-bonds king” whose early-’90s insider-trading conviction made him a poster boy of white-collar crime.

Unsurprisingly, a key influence that led to Trump’s decision, particularly as it related to Blagojevich, was Fox News. The same could partly be said of the decision on Kerik, a frequent Fox News guest whose pardon was backed by several of the network’s stars; Milken, whose pardon was supported by Fox Business Network host and Trump loyalist Maria Bartiromo; and Angela Stanton, an occasional pro-Trump TV pundit whose pardon was pushed by frequent Fox News guest and evangelical leader Alveda King.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump made the Fox News connection abundantly clear, telling reporters that he decided to commute the rest of Blagojevich’s sentence because he’d seen the ex-governor’s wife Patti Blagojevich pleading her husband’s case on Fox.

“I watched his wife on television,” Trump declared, adding that he didn’t know the ex-governor “very well” despite Blagojevich’s appearances on The Celebrity Apprentice years ago.

In mid-2018, the president repeatedly asked close advisers to explore a Blagojevich pardon and, while doing so, emphatically referenced clips he’d seen on Fox, including a segment on informal Trump adviser Jeanine Pirro’s weekend show, according to two sources who independently discussed the matter with the president at the time.

According to liberal media-watchdog Media Matters for America, Patti Blagojevich took to Fox programming in April 2018 to push for her husband’s sentence to be reduced, making at least seven appearances on some of Trump’s favorite primetime shows such as Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Ingraham Angle.

The hosts, meanwhile, didn’t even bother with subtlety during the interviews. For instance, Tucker Carlson asked Mrs. Blagojevich what she would say “if you could speak to the president.” 

Kerik, meanwhile, has been a frequent guest of Fox News primetime programming for several years, generally offering on-air criticism of how Democrats handle New York City’s police department and criminal justice in general.

In what can generously be described as ironic, Kerik appeared the evening before his pardon on Tucker Carlson Tonight to rail against bail reform in New York while urging for harsher punishment for criminals, claiming crime was down when the police department increased arrests for “jumping turnstiles” and other low-level misdemeanors.

Kerik has also been used as a Trump-friendly critic of the so-called “deep state” on Fox News airwaves, at one point advocating for the arrest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for trying to carry out an “attempted coup” of Trump with the whistleblower complaint and impeachment inquiry.

According to the White House, Kerik’s pardon was supported by Fox News stars like Geraldo Rivera and Judge Andrew Napolitano. Additionally, the administration said, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani—a frequent Fox News commentator and Kerik’s one-time boss—backed the decision.

Pirro, meanwhile, celebrated Kerik’s pardon and Blagojevich’s commutation on Twitter, personally thanking the president while declaring that “political prosecutions have no place in this country.”

The pro-Trump Fox News star, who brushed off Blagojevich’s crimes as “just practicing politics” in an April 2018 interview with Patti Blagojevich, has something of a sordid history with Kerik. Back in 2006, Pirro—who was then running as a Republican for New York attorney general—admitted she asked Kerik to bug her then-husband’s boat to see if he was having an affair after federal prosecutors began investigating whether she and Kerik illegally taped conversations.

While junk-bond king Michael Milken is not a Fox News regular by any measure, his pardon was backed by Bartiromo, yet another Fox star who has morphed into an unofficial mouthpiece of and adviser to President Trump. 

Additionally, Angela Stanton, who was pardoned for her role in a stolen luxury-vehicle ring, has appeared on Fox News as a pro-Trump commentator—much like her godmother Alveda King, who backed her pardon—often arguing that Democrats want more poor women of color to have abortions.

Appearances on Fox News and Fox Business—two of Trump’s favorite networks—are popular vessels for those seeking to make their cases for pardons or clemency directly to the president, a voracious consumer of TV and cable news.

The most prominent example was the sustained, successful on-air and behind-the-scenes campaign on Fox to lobby Trump to grant clemency to accused and convicted American war criminals. Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth was a ringleader of that highly controversial effort.

“[Trump] knows how people play this game,” said one source close to the president. “He’s even told me before something to the effect of, ‘All these people keep getting themselves on Fox News begging me for a pardon,’ so he’s self-conscious about this stuff. But it doesn’t matter, it still has an effect on him.”

For those who didn’t receive the Fox News treatment, it appears that in at least one case, cold hard cash did the talking. Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes by $473,000 and received three years probation, was issued a full pardon and clemency by the president.

According to FEC filings, Pogue’s family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions and in-kind air travel to the Trump Victory Committee. Beginning in August 2019, Ben Pogue—CEO of Pogue Construction and son of Paul Pogue—and his wife Ashleigh made over $200,000 in contributions to the campaign.

In August alone, Ben Pogue donated $85,000 to Trump Victory while Ashleigh Pogue contributed $50,000 that month. The following month, Ben Pogue made an in-kind air travel contribution of $75,404.40. The couple also made several large donations to the Republican National Committee and each donated $5,600 to Donald Trump for President Inc.

On the day of their first donation to the Trump campaign, Ashleigh posted an Instagram photo of her and her husband posing with Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, at the Hamptons.

Prior to the Pogues’ sudden significant donating spree to Trump and the Republicans, the couple was not seen as big campaign spenders, having donated a few thousand dollars for Paul Ryan’s congressional campaign in 2017 and $5,400 for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2016 Republican presidential run.

Notably, one of the advocates for Pogue’s clemency: Santorum, who is now a CNN contributor.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump pardons former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.

President Donald Trump has pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal.

DeBartolo, 73, who helped to build the 49ers’ dynasty of the 1980s and ’90s, was involved in one of the biggest owners’ scandals in the sport’s history.

In 1998, he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

The White House announced the surprise decision to reporters on Tuesday. NFL greats Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley were in attendance.

DeBartolo, whose 49ers won five Super Bowls under his leadership, stepped down as owner in 1997 after two Louisiana newspapers reported he would be indicted for gambling fraud. He avoided prison, was fined $1 million and was suspended for a year by the NFL. But the episode effectively ended his NFL career.

Rice, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played on three of DeBartolo’s Super Bowl-winning teams, said DeBartolo “was like that 12th man” of the great 49ers teams.

“He’s the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls,” Rice said. “So today is a great day for him. I’m glad to be here and be a part of that. It’s just something I will never forget. This man, he has done so much in the community, has done so much in NFL football.”

DeBartolo withdrew from the riverboat project after the state gambling board demanded he hand over all documents he gave to the grand jury. The documents included an “unexecuted agreement” between DeBartolo and Stephen Edwards, according to a copy of a grand jury subpoena obtained by the newspapers.

The state gambling board canceled the project after DeBartolo withdrew.

The DeBartolo family built their fortune through commercial real estate — mostly owning shopping malls. The family business was started by DeBartolo’s father, who died in 1994. In addition to the 49ers, the family also owned the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League before selling the team in 1991.

DeBartolo Jr. ran the 49ers starting in 1977, and his hiring of coach Bill Walsh in 1979 led to the franchise’s most successful era. From 1982 to 1995, the team won five Super Bowls.

After the suspension, DeBartolo gave control of the team to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.

He never returned to the NFL after his suspension. The team is now run by his nephew, Jed York.

DeBartolo was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

[ESPN]

Reality

Eddie DeBartolo is a longtime friend of Donald Trump who donated to his inauguration in 2017.

Trump hotels charge Secret Service up to $650 per night while protecting him

Secret Service personnel traveling with President Trump to his private luxury properties in Palm Beach, Fla., and Bedminster, N.J., pay rates as high at $650 per night for lodging, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The Post investigation tallied the amount of taxpayer dollars spent in Trump’s properties and found that the Secret Service spent $159,000 at Trump’s D.C. hotel in his first year alone. In the president’s out-of-state properties, the Trump company is recorded as charging as much as $17,000 per month for rent.

The newspaper noted that after a thorough search of rentals in the area for comparable homes, the average cost for rent was $3,400. 

Trump previously told The Hill in 2015 that he “would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done,” but currently he often visits his properties in Florida and New Jersey, Secret Service in tow. 

In an October interview with Yahoo News, Eric Trump, the executive vice president of The Trump Organization, answered questions about the president’s decision to host the 2020 Group of Seven summit at the president’s golf club, Trump National Doral Miami in Florida.

“If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free,” Trump said. “So everywhere that he goes, if he stays at one of his places, the government actually spends, meaning it saves a fortune because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they’d be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know we charge them, like $50.”

Those numbers don’t match the Post’s findings. Trump told the Post that the company is legally required to charge a fee, though they were unable to find what law he was citing.

The Post’s report comes just hours before an appeals court ruled that Democrats cannot sue President Trump over emoluments claims.

More than 200 House and Senate Democrats alleged that the president’s holdings and refusal to put his business assets into a blind trust violates the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from receiving gifts from foreign countries. 

The lawmakers’ lawsuit claimed that foreign diplomats’ patronage to Trump hotels is exactly the kind of entanglement that the framers of the Constitution hoped to avoid. 

Separately, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have requested details on Trump’s travel costs as part of negotiations over legislation regulating the Secret Service. However, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has told the committee that he opposes releasing that information until December, after the general election.

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

[The Hill]

Trump Wants to Keep Secret Service Travel Bill Out of Public View

The White House is desperately trying to keep President Donald Trump‘s exceptionally hefty Secret Service bill from being released in full to the public–at least not before the 2020 presidential election.

According to the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to negotiate an embargo on that information. Congressional Democrats, however, are insisting that the total amount of money spent by the public on Trump’s travels be released.

Those fierce discussions are reportedly being held in the context of a draft bill that would return the Secret Service to the purview of the Treasury Department–the traditional umbrella agency for the aptly-named law enforcement and computer crimes organization tasked with guarding the president and his family as well as other high-profile members of the U.S. government.

Founded by infamously violent union-buster Allan Pinkerton in 1865, the Secret Service initially served to combat the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. In 2003, control over the agency was gifted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the fallout from the September 11, 2001 attacks and the so-called “War on Terror.”

Mnuchin has been itching to return the Secret Service to its original home for some time and Democrats have been more than happy to oblige that request.

But congressional Democrats have one major condition: the Secret Service would have to disclose the full amount of taxpayer dollars spent on protecting Trump and his family–including his adult children Ivanka TrumpJared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.–during their frequent travels within 120 days of the bill’s passage.

Mnuchin has reportedly attempted to meet the Democrats in the middle and agreed to such disclosures on a relaxed timeline. The Mnuchin-supplied timeline, perhaps not entirely so curiously, would have the cost disclosure occur only after the 2020 election. The timing dust-up has been a point of serious contention.

Per the Post‘s report:

In a statement, the Treasury Department confirmed that Mnuchin has been working with Secret Service Director James Murray and congressional committees on a bill to transfer the Secret Service from the Department of Homeland Security to Treasury, but did not address the dispute about the reporting requirement.

“Conversations about the return of the Secret Service to the Treasury Department are ongoing, and we decline to comment on individual aspects of those conversations,”an anonymous Treasury official told the outlet.

But Democrats are said to be adamant and insist that the public has a right to know how much they’re paying for the Trump family’s repeat travels to their personally-owned hotels and golf resorts in Florida and New Jersey.

Why all the concern? Democrats likely view the information as an effective and useful political prize; the White House an onerous liability and embarrassment.

As Law&Crime previously reported, President Trump’s extensive golf habit has already cost the public far in excess what former president Barack Obama’s did—and Trump accomplished that feat in a stunning three years compared to Obama’s eight.

As of 2020, Trump’s golf habit alone has cost taxpayers in the ballpark of some $115 million. During Obama’s presidency, the former first family spent roughly $114 million in public funds on travel total.

As noted, Obama golfed quite a bit as well—and was often taken to task for indulgence in the country club sport.

But the Secret Service travel tab for Trump is seen as particularly problematic because he was one of Obama’s biggest critics on the golf front—using it as an attack line during the 2016 presidential election—and insisted he’d largely abandon the game if elected.

“I love golf,” then-candidate Trump told a Florida crowd in 2016, “but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t ever think I’d see Doral again. I own Doral in Miami. I don’t think I’d ever see many of the places that I have. I don’t really ever think I’d see anything–I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals.”

Now one of those would-be deals is an effort to keep his publicly-subsidized golf games on the down low.

[Law and Crime]

Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon’

In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.

According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.

“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.

Trump’s gossipy whispers regarding a “big” response in Iraq foreshadowed what was to come. After hours of silence, senior officials in the Trump administration argued that what had taken place in Iraq was not an act of aggression. Instead, they said both publicly and behind closed doors on the Hill that killing Qassem Soleimani was designed to “advance the cause of peace,” as U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook put it in a Friday interview

Those Mar-a-Lago guests received more warning about Thursday’s attack than Senate staff did, and about as much clarity. A classified briefing on Friday, the first the administration gave to the Hill, featured broad claims about what the Iranians were planning and little evidence of planning to bring about the “de-escalation” the administration says it wants.  

According to three sources either in the room or told about the discussion, briefers from the State Department, Pentagon, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence claimed that killing Soleimani was designed to block Iranian plans to kill “hundreds” or even thousands of Americans in the Mideast. That would be a massive escalation from the recent attack patterns of Iran and its regional proxies, who tend to kill Americans in small numbers at a time. 

“This administration has absolutely not earned the benefit of the doubt when it makes these kinds of claims. When you’re taking action that could lead to the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years, you need to do better than these kinds of assertions,” said a Senate aide in the room. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also said publicly that the Iranians planned to kill hundreds of Americans before Soleimani’s killing.

Nor, said four sources who requested anonymity to discuss a classified briefing, did the briefers provide detail on a key question surrounding an act of war against a regional power: what next? 

[The Daily Beast]

Transcript Shows WH Made Up Details of Trump’s Zelensky Call

The release of the transcript of President Donald Trump’s first call in April with Ukrainian President-elect Volodomyr Zelensky was meant to bolster the case that Trump had nothing but good intentions in his dealings with Ukraine—but it also showed a White House summary of the same call released to the public shortly after it occurred was largely fabricated. 

The White House readout, a summary of the call released hours after it occurred, claimed Trump “underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—within its internationally recognized borders—and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelensky and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

Such statements are nowhere to be found in the transcript of the call released by the president on Friday. That transcript shows Trump congratulating Zelensky on his recent election win, promising to arrange a White House visit for him, and recounting the large number of Ukrainian women who participated in Trump’s Miss Universe competitions.

Nowhere does Trump mention efforts to address Ukrainian corruption, economic prosperity, or democratic institutions. Nor does he even allude to its efforts to beat back the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

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

The White House released the transcript in an effort to undercut claims by congressional Democrats that Trump sought to leverage a Zelensky White House visit and delayed military aid to Ukraine to solicit an investigation by Ukrainian prospectors into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and into conspiracy theories regarding a supposed Ukrainian role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Trump and his allies have claimed that the president was simply seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine, a stated objective of U.S. foreign policy for years. The readout of Trump’s April call with Zelensky indicated that Trump had indeed pressed Zelensky on that issue in particular.

But the transcript released Friday, which notes that it is not a “verbatim” account of the conversation, doesn’t even mention the word “corruption.”

The Trump White House has a checkered record of releasing summaries of his calls with foreign leaders, a practice viewed as standard in prior administrations. Many of those readouts have contained scant details of the conversations, even as foreign leaders put out far more detailed summaries, a practice that experts say allows foreign governments to put their own spin on highly consequential interactions with the president.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump Praises Business Partner Tiger Woods After Golfer Notches Record-Tying 82nd Career PGA Tour Win

President Donald Trump sent out his praise to “AMAZING CHAMPION” Tiger Woods in the wake of the golfer’s 82nd PGA Tour win.

Woods won the record-tying title Monday, tying with Sam Snead for highest number of PGA Tour championships.

“Great going Tiger!” Trump said Monday.

“Well, it’s a big number,” Woods said after winning. “It’s about consistency and doing it for a long period of time. Sam did it into his 50s, and I’m in my early to mid-40s. So it’s about being consistent and doing it for a very long period of time. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had so far.”

Trump and Woods have a warm relationship, and the president awarded Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year.

“You have seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows and I would not be in this position without all of your help… I love you guys so much,” Woods said in his speech, thanking friends and family.

[Mediaite]

Donald Trump’s Televised Cabinet Meeting Was Another Nutty Episode

oes it even matter any more that, on Monday, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago had another televised nutty in the White House? Does it matter more that, in the course of his televised nutty, the president* expressed virulent contempt for the Constitution he swore to preserve, protect, and defend. I mean, I was sitting there when he did it. I had to sit through that awful Roger Corman film of an inaugural address. Did I do that for naught?

Anyway, on Monday, the president* unburdened himself of the following thought-like objects.

On the war on terror:

“I’m the one who did the capturing. I’m the one who knows more about it than you people or fake pundits.”

On the whistleblower:

“I happen to think there probably wasn’t an informant. You know, the informant went to the whistleblower, the whistleblower had, you know, second-and-third-hand information. So was there actually an informant? Maybe the informant was Schiff!”

And then, the piece de resistance, in which Alexander Hamilton and James Madison become operatives of The Deep State…

“You people with this phony emoluments clause.”

I know he burbled on about George Washington and Barack Obama and Netflix and how unprecedented it is that he’s not taking a salary. (Herbert Hoover didn’t, nor did JFK.) But I think I briefly went to another place when he said that thing about the Emoluments Clause. How about the Bill of Rights? How about the powers of Congress? How about the impeachment provisions? What other parts of the Constitution does he consider “phony”?

[Esquire]

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