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]

Scott Pruitt and a crew of EPA aides spent four days in Morocco promoting natural gas

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt returned Wednesday from a trip to Morocco, where he talked with officials about their interest in importing natural gas as well as other areas of “continued cooperation” between the two countries.

The EPA disclosed the trip late Tuesday, issuing a media release that included photos and a statement from Pruitt saying that the visit “allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders.”

“We are committed to working closely with countries like Morocco to enhance environmental stewardship around the world,” Pruitt said.

The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Pruitt took along seven aides and an undisclosed number of staff from his protective detail. The group included four political aides, including Samantha Dravis, associate administrator of the Office of Policy, and senior advisers Sarah Greenwalt and Lincoln Ferguson, as well as one career official, Jane Nishida, principal deputy assistant administrator of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. Pruitt’s head of security determines how many advance staffers travel on any given trip, EPA officials said, and in this instance it was two.

At the request of Senate Democrats, the EPA inspector general is looking into Pruitt’s use of military and private flights, as well as his frequent visits to his home state of Oklahoma during his first few months on the job.

“It seems strange that Administrator Pruitt would prioritize a trip to Morocco to discuss natural gas exports while there is no shortage of more pressing issues here in the U.S. that actually fall within the jurisdiction of the agency he leads,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I presume Mr. Pruitt is aware his agency’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into his questionable travel, which makes his decision to take this trip an odd choice at best.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement that Pruitt “acts like he is a globe-trotting salesman for the fossil fuel industry who can make taxpayers foot the bill.”

Pruitt traveled in business class for three flights, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal agency matter, and in economy class for two flights. Asked about the travel arrangements, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox replied in an email, “Due to concerns from our security team, Administrator Pruitt was granted a waiver by EPA’s Chief Financial Officer to fly business-class.”

Wilcox said he could not provide the trip’s total cost because the travelers’ arrangements were booked through their respective departments.

Pruitt met with three top Moroccan officials, according to the agency statement, including the minister of energy, mines and sustainable development; the minister of justice and liberties; and the secretary of state to the minister of foreign affairs. Wilcox said Pruitt “discussed our bilateral free trade agreement, solid waste response, disaster relief and communications with top Moroccan officials.”

His visit came shortly after the EPA held a workshop in Rabat about solid waste management, public participation and crisis communication.

Morocco, the only African country with which the United States has a free-trade agreement, is a signatory to the 2015 Paris climate agreement and has collaborated in the past with U.S. officials on its push to expand domestic solar energy production. During the trip, Moroccan officials took Pruitt on a tour of the IRESEN Green Energy Park, which the EPA said showed the administrator “firsthand the work being done to promote environmental innovation, including solar energy across Morocco.”

[Washington Post]

Pruitt met with lobbyist whose wife rented him condo

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a $50-a-night condo in Washington, D.C.

J. Steven Hart, a lobbyist for Williams & Jensen, set up the meeting with Pruitt on behalf of executive associated with Smithfield Foods, a large pork producer.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Hart had reached out to the EPA on behalf of a client, Smithfield Foods, contradicting Hart’s previous claims that he had not lobbied Pruitt’s agency last year or in 2018. Hart announced Saturday that he is also stepping down from the firm.

On Saturday, Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Hart, confirmed to The Hill that Hart in fact met personally with Pruitt in 2017 alongside Smithfield Foods’s former vice president Dennis Treacy.

The personal meeting was first reported by The New York Times.

Both Hart and Smithfield Food, however, deny that the meeting was to lobby on behalf of the company. A spokesperson for Smithfield Foods said that Hart’s work was instead a personal action on behalf of Treacy, the Times reported.

Both men claim the meeting was about the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which they are members of. The group works to improve water quality in the bay.

Hart says his work was not on behalf of Smithfield Foods and that he was not compensated for his work.

Pruitt has faced scrutiny in recent days for a number of controversies raising ethics questions, including his rental of a condo from Hart’s wife. He paid $50 a night and only paid for nights he stayed in the unit.

[The Hill]

Trump plugs Mar-a-Lago during Japanese PM’s visit

President Trump plugged his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday at the start of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — saying that world leaders were clamoring for an invite to his fave Florida destination.

“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. They like it. I like it, we’re comfortable, we have great relationships,” Trump said before offering a somewhat patchy history of the storied waterfront property.

“As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. It was originally built as the Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. It was given to the United States, and then Jimmy Carter decided it was too expensive for the United States so they fortunately for me gave it back and I bought it.”

Mar-a-Lago was built as a residence for Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post beginning in 1924.

When she died in 1973, she bequeathed it to the National Park Service in the hopes that it could be used as a “Winter White House.”

But because it was so expensive to maintain, the property was returned to the Post Foundation by Congress in April 1981, when President Reagan was in office. Trump bought it in 1985.

“It was a circuitous route but now indeed it is the Southern White House,” the president continued. “Again, many of the leaders want to be here, they request specifically.”

The president also said that he and Abe would hit the links on Wednesday before holding bilateral discussions on trade, the Koreas and other topics.

Korea is coming along. South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war and they have my blessing on that,” he said.

“People do not realize the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now and they are discussing an end to the war,” Trump said.

The fighting stopped on the peninsula when the parties signed an armistice in 1953, but the war was never officially declared over.

Trump is spending the week at Mar-a-Lago, the 17th time he has visited the resort since taking office.

[New York Post]

Media

EPA: ‘Zero Records’ of Any Death Threats Against Scott Pruitt, Despite Trump Tweet

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) apparently has no evidence of any death threats made against agency head Scott Pruitt, despite allegations to the contrary, including a recent tweet from President Donald Trump.

According to numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by various media outlets and reporters, the conservation-themed agency has “zero records” responsive to inquiries regarding any and all death threats made against the embattled agency director.

BuzzFeed News‘ senior investigative Reporter Jason Leopold noted this records-related discrepancy in a tweet sent late Saturday afternoon. He wrote:

I had filed a #FOIA with EPA for any records of death threats made against Scott Pruitt. EPA said it had zero records.

Leopold then suggested that maybe the agency was just lying to him about those threats. In a later tweet, addressing possible criticism of his methods, Leopold clarified that those FOIA requests were lodged with both the EPA’s headquarters and Inspector General’s office.

The Washington Post and Associated Press previously conducted similar investigations into these alleged death threats against Pruitt, but both news agencies came up empty-handed as well.

Officials speaking on behalf of Pruitt have frequently cited to alleged death threats against him when pressed to account for the unprecedentedly expensive–and oftentimes lavish–spending requests issued by Pruitt and his inner circle. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the following in comments to Fox News on Sunday:

According to EPA’s Assistant Inspector General, Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and his family. Americans should all agree that members of the president’s Cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats.

That may not be entirely accurate.

Patrick Sullivan is the EPA’s current assistant inspector general. Sullivan is the agency official tasked with investigating any threats made against EPA personnel. A September 14, 2017 E&E News story by reporter Kevin Bogardus noted that Sullivan had opened at least four investigations into alleged threats against Pruitt. None of those alleged threats, however, were characterized as “death threats” by either Sullivan or Bogardus in the story, which was itself based on various FOIA-obtained documents provided by the EPA.

In comments to the energy and environmental policy-focused publication, Sullivan said, “I can tell you we have more than three investigations. That’s for sure.” When pressed to explain the outcome of one of those investigations, Sullivan said, “It was not a direct threat. It was an implied threat that contained obscene language.”

“The U.S. attorney’s office determined that there was no probable cause to meet the statute and there was no crime committed, so they declined,” he added.

The author of that “implied threat” sent Pruitt a postcard and later apologized to EPA agents for doing so. Another postcard addressed to Pruitt called the agency director an “evil” and “ignorant fuck,” but was also determined not to contain any sort of legally cognizable threat and was ultimately dismissed by Sullivan and his investigative team.

In a New York Times report from last Thursday by reporters Eric Lipton, Kenneth P. Vogel and Lisa Friedman, Wilcox allegedly said, “They run the variety of direct death threats — ‘I’m going to put a bullet in your brain’ — to implied threats — ‘If you don’t classify this particular chemical in this particular way, I’m going to hurt you.”

It is presently unclear exactly which threats Wilcox is referencing in the above-quoted language–but some of those alleged threats bear similarities to previous threats noted by Sullivan in the E&E story: except those direct threats were made against Obama era EPA chief Gina McCarthy.

An Associated Press story released mid-morning Monday revealed that EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins has launched at least five separate probes into Pruitt’s controversial conduct.

[Law and Crime]

Trump bragged that his tower withstood a fire — but has been silent about the man who died in it

Depending on whom you followed more closely, there were two accounts of the fire Saturday night that tore through a 50th-floor apartment in Trump Tower, President Trump’s namesake building on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The first narrative unfolded through official alerts and images from the New York Fire Department, which painted a picture of an extraordinarily challenging — and ultimately fatal — blaze to contain and extinguish.

The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Soon, flames could be seen making their way across the unit as dark plumes of smoke billowed upward, obstructing many of the floors above.

By the time firefighters arrived at the 50th floor of the building, they found “the apartment was entirely on fire,” New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Saturday.

Forcing their way into the unit, firefighters pulled out one person, unconscious and unresponsive, who had been trapped inside, Nigro added.

The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. He later died.

In all, six firefighters — of the roughly 200 or so who had responded — suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze, Nigro said.

For the president, however, the fire seemed first a chance to boast of the construction quality of Trump Tower on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating with the public.

“Very confined (well built building),” Trump tweeted Saturday, about an hour after the fire broke out. “Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”

Trump also declared that the fire had been extinguished — before it actually had been.

The fire was still not considered to be under control then because of smoke conditions above the 50th floor, Nigro said Saturday. It was brought under control shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, about an hour after Trump’s tweet, fire officials said.

[Washington Post]

Scott Pruitt Bypassed the White House to Give Big Raises to Favorite Aides

In early March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt approached the White House with a request: He wanted substantial pay raises for two of his closest aides.

The aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, were part of the small group of staffers who had traveled with Pruitt to Washington from Oklahoma, where he had served as attorney general. Greenwalt, a 30-year-old who had worked as Pruitt’s general counsel in Oklahoma, was now his senior counsel at the EPA. Hupp, 26, was working on his political team before she moved to D.C. to become the agency’s scheduling director.

Pruitt asked that Greenwalt’s salary be raised from $107,435 to $164,200; Hupp’s, from $86,460 to $114,590. Because both women were political appointees, he needed the White House to sign-off on their new pay.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, staffers from the Presidential Personnel Office dismissed Pruitt’s application. The White House, the source said, declined to approve the raises.

So Pruitt found another way.

A provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval. The provision, meant to help expedite the hiring of experts and allow for more flexible staffing, became law in 1996. In past administrations, it has been used to hire specialists into custom-made roles in especially stressed offices, according to Bob Perciasepe, a former acting EPA administrator.

After the White House rejected their request, Pruitt’s team studied the particulars of the Safe Drinking Water provision, according to the source with direct knowledge of these events. By reappointing Greenwalt and Hupp under this authority, they learned, Pruitt could exercise total control over their contracts and grant the raises on his own.

Pruitt ordered it done. Though Hupp and Greenwalt’s duties did not change, the agency began processing them for raises of $28,130 and $56,765, respectively, compared with their 2017 salaries. Less than two weeks after Pruitt had approached the White House, according to time-stamped Human Resources documents shared with The Atlantic, the paperwork was finished.

Word of the raises quickly began to circulate through the agency. The episode infuriated some staffers; to some political aides, it was evidence of Pruitt’s disregard for the White House’s warnings to cabinet officials that they avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It also underscored the administrator’s tendency to play favorites among his staff, according to two sources with direct knowledge of agency dynamics. Hupp, in particular, is making more than her Obama-era predecessor, a five-year veteran of the agency who did not break six figures until the final year of the administration, according to public records. (While Greenwalt has no obvious peer in the Obama administration, the EPA’s general counsel had an annual salary of $155,500 in 2016.)

Said one EPA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press: “This whole thing has completely gutted any morale I had left to put up with this place.”

“The Safe Drinking Water Act provides the EPA with broad authority to appoint scientific, engineering, professional, legal, and administrative positions within EPA without regard to the civil service laws. This is clear authority that has been relied on by previous administrations,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “The Administrator was not aware that these personnel actions had not been submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office. So, the Administrator has directed that they be submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office for review.”

The White House did not return requests for comment.

[The Atlantic]

Oil lobbyist linked to EPA secretary Scott Pruitt’s cheap DC condo rental had pipeline project approved

After his wife rented a Washington, D.C. condo to Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt for $50 a night, a Canadian oil lobbyist had his pipeline project approved by the department.

The New York Times reported Monday that the firm led by J. Stephen Hart, whose wife Vicki rented the condo to Pruitt, successfully lobbied the EPA to approve the Alberta Clipper pipeline in March 2017. The approval came despite Enbridge Inc. — a Calgary-based company that Hart’s firm Williams & Jensen lobbied for — being fined $61 million by the agency towards the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

A spokesperson for Williams & Jensen told the Times that they did not interfere with the EPA or Pruitt before or after the administrator’s stay in the Hart condo. The company also said “it had not worked on similar regulatory issues for Enbridge in the past year, even though it was registered at the time as lobbying for the company on ‘issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines,’” the report noted.

Shortly after the Times broke the story about the Alberta Clipper pipeline, Politico reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly has considered firing Pruitt — once considered to be a replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions — over this latest scandal.

The Daily Beast also reported Monday night that the owners of the townhome Pruitt rented hosted GOP fundraisers when he was living there.

[Raw Story]

Trump properties collect more than $271,000 in a single month from GOP donors

The Republican National Committee spent a little more than $271,000 last month at properties owned by President Trump, new campaign filings show.

Most of the money — $205,021 — went to Trump National Doral in Miami, for “venue rental and catering,” according to the party’s monthly report filed Tuesday night with the Federal Election Commission.

The Republican National Committee’s February spending is on top of the $1.1 million that Trump’s campaign and other Republican political committees and candidates reported spending at his properties during his first year in office. Although Trump relinquished management of his real-estate empire when he became president last year, he did not give up his ownership. As a result, using political donors’ money to host events at Trump properties helps boost the president’s personal bottom line.

Tuesday’s filing makes clear that the RNC has plenty of money to spend.

The committee raised $12.8 million in February, bringing its total fundraising to $157.7 million for the election cycle. The record-breaking haul has helped the party build a voter-outreach operation that’s already active in 25 states, according to party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

The party started March with $42.4 million in cash reserves, a dramatic improvement from the $10 million the RNC had in reserves at this point in the 2014 midterm elections.

By contrast, the Democratic National Committee has total receipts of $80.7 million so far in the 2018 election cycle. The Democrats started the March with nearly $10.1 million remaining in the bank, but the DNC has more than $6 million in debts, including a $1.7 million loan it secured last month.

[USA Today]

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