Trump admin argues transgender workers aren’t protected by civil rights law in new Supreme Court filing

The Trump administration on Friday filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that federal civil rights laws do not protect transgender workers.

The filing relates to the case of Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired as the funeral director of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. in Detroit after she told owner Thomas Rost that she planned to transition from male to female and would be representing herself as a woman while at work.

In March 2018, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the funeral home had violated Title VII anti-discrimination laws in the decision, with the court ruling that “discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex” and therefore protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, in their court filing submitted Friday, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco and Department of Justice attorneys argued that the specific Civil Rights Act provision “does not bar discrimination because of transgender status,” meaning the Michigan funeral home was within its right to fire Stephens.

“In 1964, the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status,” the brief reads. “In the particular context of Title VII — legislation originally designed to eliminate employment discrimination against racial and other minorities — it was especially clear that the prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ referred to unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace.”

If the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration, it would overturn the previous ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and mark a major blow to LGBT rights. 

The move comes hours after the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed President Trump‘s 2020 reelection bid, reversing its decision four years ago when the conservative LGBT organization declined to endorse then-candidate Trump in 2016.  

The group said Friday in its decision that Trump has helped advance LGBT rights through policies seeking to end the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as his push to get other countries to conform to modern human rights standards.

Trump has referred to himself as the “most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party,” but has come under fire for his transgender military ban, which reversed the Obama-era policy of allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.

The ban was formally upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year after facing multiple legal challenges.

[The Hill]

State Department watchdog details political retaliation against ‘disloyal’ staffers

Top officials in the State Department bureau that deals with international organizations engaged in “disrespectful and hostile treatment” of staffers, including harassing some over suspicions that they were “disloyal” due to their perceived political views, a federal watchdog says.

The findings were contained in a report soon-to-be published by the State Department inspector general’s office.

The report, obtained Thursday by POLITICO, is one of two reports that explore allegations that President Donald Trump’s political appointees retaliated against career State Department employees.

The report singles out the assistant secretary in the international organizations bureau, Kevin Moley, as failing to stop the misbehavior despite numerous complaints. It also contains numerous examples of alleged actions taken by Mari Stull, another senior political appointee in the bureau, who has since left.

Stull and Moley were said to have “frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff,” according to the report.

The majority of the employees the inspector general’s office interviewed “either directly experienced hostile treatment or witnessed such treatment directed at others. In fact, one IO employee told OIG that working with Ms. Stull involved ‘six to eight hostile interactions per day.’ 

Stull, who was known to describe herself as “the Vino Vixen” due to her past keeping of a wine blog, was also alleged in past media reports as having tried to keep lists of career government staffers she considered disloyal or loyal to the president.

According to the inspector general’s report, many staffers said Moley and Stull “made positive or negative comments about employees based on perceived political views. For example, several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as ‘Obama holdovers,’ ‘traitors,’ or ‘disloyal.'”

Moley, however, insisted to the inspector general’s office that “the only occasion on which he heard Ms. Stull make such remarks was in reference to former political appointees whom she believed were converted to career employees.”

Career government staffers are sworn to serve in government in a non-partisan fashion, no matter who or which party controls the White House. But many of Trump’s political appointees believe there exists a “deep state” among the career staffers determined to thwart the president’s agenda.

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick’s next report on the broader topic of alleged political retaliation is expected to focus on staffers who worked directly for the secretary of state’s office. It’s not clear when that report will be published.

Moley did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but in a response to the investigation, which the inspector general included in his report, he said the misbehavior attributed to him “does not represent the person I am or have ever been.”

Stull could not immediately be reached for comment. She declined the inspector general’s interview request during the investigation

[Politico]

Trump Administration Seeks Decertification Of Immigration Judges’ Union

The Justice Department late last week moved to seek the decertification of the union representing hundreds of U.S. immigration judges, ratcheting up a simmering battle over the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

The department filed a petition Friday asking the Federal Labor Relations Authority to determine whether the certification of National Association of Immigration Judges as the union representing some 440 immigration judges should be revoked “because the bargaining unit members are management officials under the statutory definition,” according to a Justice Department spokesperson.

“This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the DOJ to evade transparency and accountability, and undermine the decisional independence of the nation’s 440 Immigration Judges,” Judge Ashley Tabaddor, speaking in her capacity as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said in an emailed statement. “We are trial court judges who make decisions on the basis of case specific facts and the nation’s immigration laws. We do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.”

The administration and the immigration judges union have been at loggerheads over a variety of issues, including the judges’ status as employees of the Justice Department. Judges are appointed by the attorney general and they are not part of the independent judiciary. They have publicly argued for their separation from the Justice Department.

Last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the unusual step of reviewingsome judicial decisions in the name of reducing the backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases clogging the courts.

Sessions also ordered judges to end the practice of temporarily removing cases from their dockets without issuing decisions, a move known as “administrative closure.”

The Justice Department also imposed a quotasystem on judges, linking the number of cleared cases to their performance evaluations. The judges’ union said the courts need more immigration judges, not assembly-line proceedings.

President Trump has appointed 190immigration judges since taking office. As of June 2019, there are more than 900,000 pending cases in immigration courts, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

The move to decertify the immigration judges’ union comes as no surprise to many judges.

“Clearly they want to use the judges to ramrod through cases and ramp up deportation regardless of any due process defects their policies have,” said one judge who isn’t authorized to speak for the union and requested anonymity. Without the union, judges would be effectively muzzled and unable to publicly share their views about the courts, the judge added.

This is not the first time the Justice Department has tried to decertify the immigration judges’ union. The Clinton administration sought decertification, but the Federal Labor Relations Authority rejectedthe notion that judges are managers who make policy. But some judges are concerned that the FLRA under the Trump administration would be less sympathetic to the union. 

“It’s absurd that anyone would consider us managers,” said Tabaddor, a judge based in Los Angeles. “We don’t even have the authority to order pencils.”

[NPR]

The Trump Administration Is Bringing Back Federal Executions After 16 Years

The Trump Administration plans to resume federal executions, reversing a 16-year-long de facto moratorium on the death penalty within the Department of Justice.

Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons on Thursday to schedule executions of five death-row inmates, who he said were convicted of “murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society — children and the elderly.” The federal government has carried out three executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1988: two in 2001 and one in 2003. 

But it’s not clear whether the federal government has successfully obtained the drugs required to perform lethal injections in the midst of a nationwide shortage.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the president,” Barr said in a statement. “The Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding.”

Thursday’s announcement bucks a national trend toward phasing out the death penalty entirely. Faced with a shortage of lethal injection drugs, states have tried to experiment with untested cocktails of chemicals — and even kept some of the details secret. But trying to circumvent the shortage has led to botched executions in some instances and lawsuits questioning the humanity of new protocols. 

As a result, the number of annual executions has declined in recent years — and public opinion has increasingly swung in favor of doing away with capital punishment entirely. 

Some states have even adjusted their protocols to allow death row inmates to choose alternate methods of execution. Last December, an inmate in Tennessee died by electric chair at his request.

Sixty-two inmates currently wait on federal death row. Among them is Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners when he opened fire on a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015

Only 25 states still have the death penalty on the books, but just eight states carried out executions in 2018. So far this year, governors in four states — California, Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania — have placed moratoriums on their state’s death penalty. New Hampshire also abolished the death penalty entirely in 2019, just months after Washington, which scrapped capital punishment last October

[Vice]

DOJ Says It’s Been ‘Instructed’ By Trump To Try To Get Citizenship Question Back On Census

The Justice Department told a federal judge on Wednesday that it had been “instructed” to try to find a way to get the citizenship question back on the 2020 census, after the Supreme Court blocked its previous effort to do so last month.

The update came after President Trump tweeted Wednesday that previous government statements that the administration was backing down from its census citizenship fight were incorrect. U.S. District Judge George Hazel convened a teleconference hearing on Wednesday as confusion swirled around the issue. Both the Justice Department and the Commerce Department had said on Tuesday that the forms had been sent off to printers without the question on it.

Jody Hunt, a top DOJ official, told the judge that the administration believed there may be a “legally available” path to getting the question re-added while still complying with the Supreme Court’s ruling, according to a transcript of the hearing obtained by TPM (see below).

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1M3Y6vj3QlQpSdlYcCdq3BkbnnWIrEPlf/view

Hunt said the plan, if the government goes down that route, is to go directly to the Supreme Court to get instructions on how to streamline future proceedings over its efforts to re-add the question.

A couple of hours after the hearing, the Justice Department filed an update (see below) in a separate census case in New York reaffirming that the administration had reversed course and was looking for a way to add the citizenship question.

“In the event that the Commerce Department adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census consistent with the decision of the Supreme Court, the Government will immediately notify this Court,” the DOJ filing said.

[Talking Points Memo]

Trump calls into Sean Hannity’s show, revives debunked wiretapping claim

Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated most of his show on Wednesday night to another phone interview with President Donald Trump.

While most of the talking points were familiar to anyone who bothered to tune into Trump’s reelection kickoff speech Tuesday night or any of his other recent interviews on Fox News, Trump did let slip that he still believes his phones were wiretapped during the 2016 campaign.

Repeating his claim that intelligence agencies were “spying” on his campaign, Trump said, “We will have to find out if they were listening on my calls, that would be the ultimate. If they spied on my campaign, and they may have, it will be one of the great revelations in history of this country.”

Trump assured Hannity, who often pushes baseless conspiracy theories himself, that Attorney General William Barr was working very hard to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing during the lengthy investigations into Trump’s campaign. At no point did the conversation address the fact that six Trump campaign officials were indicted as a result of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year long investigation, five of whom pleaded guilty, nor did it address the many outside investigations referred by the special counsel’s office.

Two months into Trump’s administration, he declared on Twitter, without any evidence, that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer even suggested at the time that British intelligence may have wiretapped the Trump Tower phones at President Barack Obama’s request.

Since then, the Department of Justice has said on at least two different occasions that it has no records of such wiretapping while Trump was a candidate.

Trump said earlier this year that his 2017 wiretapping claim was based “just on a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom maybe.” He appeared to believe that because the brazen accusation received so much attention, that actually proved that he was onto something.

“It blew up because they thought maybe I was wise to them,” he said, speaking to Hannity at the time, once again without presenting any evidence to back his claim. “Or they were caught. And that’s why. If they weren’t doing anything wrong it would’ve just gotten by, nobody would’ve cared about it.”

In his interview with Hannity, Trump reiterated Spicer’s claim that “other countries were involved.” Admitting it was pure speculation, he said, “I think perhaps, just based on what I’m seeing, they used other countries because they didn’t want to get caught doing what they were doing in this country.”

It is true that U.S. investigators wiretapped Carter Page and Paul Manafort, former officials on Trump’s campaign, to investigate potential wrongdoing and their connections with foreign governments. But Trump seems to think that there was some greater conspiracy that targeted him directly, and he expects Barr to find proof that he was the real victim.

“I think he’s a very honorable gentleman who wants to do the right thing,” Trump said Wednesday night.

[ThinkProgress]

Reality

Trump’s DOJ admitted in a “court filing notes two separate instances in which the Trump administration has rubbished the claims made by its own executive.”

The DOJ also admitted it has “no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets” in a September 2017 court filing.

Trump said earlier this year that his 2017 wiretapping claim was based “just on a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom maybe.” He appeared to believe that because the brazen accusation received so much attention, that actually proved that he was onto something.

Media

Trump: Intelligence agencies must ‘quickly and fully’ cooperate with Barr review of 2016 surveillance

President Donald Trump on Thursday directed that U.S. intelligence agencies must “quickly and fully” cooperate with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation “into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. 

Barr has also been delegated the authority by Trump to declassify information related to the investigation, the White House also announced.

Sanders said that Barr had requested and recommended that the president issue the directive to the intelligence community.

“Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions,” Sanders also said in the statement.

Trump’s order came just hours after he stood in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and reiterated his claim, without providing evidence, that when FBI officials launched the initial probe into Russia that the decision amounted to “treason.”

“These are bad people,” Trump told reporters during an event with farmers. “That’s treason. That’s treason. They couldn’t win the election, and that’s what happened.”

The initial Trump investigation began when former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told a foreign diplomat that Russia had collected thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails and would use them to damage the Democratic candidate’s campaign. The diplomat tipped off the FBI to the conversation.

The developments advance Trump’s desire to dig into the very beginnings of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that later became part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Trump and his allies have alleged the investigation began with political motivations, though there has been no smoking-gun evidence to support that theory.

Trump has repeatedly promised to declassify the documents, which many Republicans view as critical to deciphering the origins of the Russia probe. Some redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court records were released last year, but Trump allies have sought more information about the evidence the FBI presented to obtain a wiretap on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

That wiretap was not authorized until after Page left the Trump campaign, but the president has used its existence to argue that the FBI was “spying” on him.

Barr last month at a congressional hearing, without providing evidence, said “I think spying did occur” on Trump’s 2016 campaign. And Barr has more recently made similar suggestions in media interviews. 

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told USA TODAY recently that seeing more of the secret FISA court documents would be a key first step to understanding the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. Kennedy said the Justice Department should also review what prompted the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, to ensure that politics weren’t involved in either case.

“The first thing I would like to see is the president declassify all documents to the FBI and Justice dealing with the 2016 election,” Kennedy said. “There will have to be redactions. But if he’s not willing to do that, then I would like to see Mr. Barr delve into the genesis of all investigations about the 2016 election – the Trump investigation and the Clinton investigation.”

[USA Today]

Reality

Donald Trump is an authoritarian, and investigating his investigators is just another checked box in the authoritarian checklist.

What does this mean?

Sweeping powers for Barr

Barr was given the authority to unilaterally declassify materials related to the investigation, allowing him to “direct” intelligence officials to declassify them. Such documents usually go through an interagency process to determine what can be declassified and released publicly, and the agency where the intelligence originated has to sign off on the final declassification.

Potential for conflict with intelligence community

While it’s not unusual for the intelligence community to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, some former officials say it will become problematic if Trump is seen as using the agencies to go after his political enemies.

Democratic fury meets Republican praise

Democrats, already critical of Barr’s handling of Mueller’s findings, have accused Trump and the attorney general of attempting to politicize the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Some suggested the administration may be looking to selectively release classified material to shape a false narrative.

Trump’s calls to ‘investigate the investigators’ get louder

Thursday’s developments illustrate Trump’s calls to “investigate the investigators” – a message he has used to counter an onslaught of investigations from Democrats following the release of Mueller’s report.

Trump has accused FBI officials involved in the original Russia probe – former FBI director James Comey, former deputy director Andrew McCabe and others – of engaging in “treason.”

More shoes to drop

Trump’s recent move all but guarantees his administration will release certain materials from the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Trump has long said he would declassify and release sensitive documents, including the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Page, a highly redacted version of which the Justice Department made public last summer under pressure from Republicans.

Trump: Discussing a Biden probe with Barr would be ‘appropriate’

President Donald Trump told POLITICO on Friday that it would be “appropriate” for him to speak to Attorney General Bill Barr about launching an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, or his son, Hunter.

The question of whether Trump could pressure Barr to probe Biden is coming under scrutiny after Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said he would be traveling to Ukraine to urge the incoming government there to look at Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company that has reportedly been in prosecutors’ crosshairs. The efforts appear to be part of a broader campaign by Trump’s allies to damage the former Democratic vice president’s White House campaign and have raised questions about whether Trump’s team is trying to enlist a foreign government to aid the president’s re-election bid.

“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet. … It could be a very big situation,” Trump said in a 15-minute telephone interview on Friday afternoon, which stemmed from POLITICO’s inquiries for a separate story.

Barr also drew attention during his recent congressional testimony when he demurred on a question about whether anybody in the White House had ever suggested that he launch an investigation.

President Donald Trump told POLITICO on Friday that it would be “appropriate” for him to speak to Attorney General Bill Barr about launching an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, or his son, Hunter.

The question of whether Trump could pressure Barr to probe Biden is coming under scrutiny after Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said he would be traveling to Ukraine to urge the incoming government there to look at Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company that has reportedly been in prosecutors’ crosshairs. The efforts appear to be part of a broader campaign by Trump’s allies to damage the former Democratic vice president’s White House campaign and have raised questions about whether Trump’s team is trying to enlist a foreign government to aid the president’s re-election bid.

“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet. … It could be a very big situation,” Trump said in a 15-minute telephone interview on Friday afternoon, which stemmed from POLITICO’s inquiries for a separate story.

Barr also drew attention during his recent congressional testimony when he demurred on a question about whether anybody in the White House had ever suggested that he launch an investigation.

“Because he’s a Democrat,” Trump said, the report had about “one-hundredth” the impact as it would have if he “were a Republican.”

That’s not for lack of effort by the president’s allies. As of Friday afternoon, Giuliani was about to travel to Ukraine in an effort to push the country’s president-elect to pursue the investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement with the energy company, Burisma Holdings. He also wants Ukraine to probe whether the country’s officials were trying to help Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election by releasing forged documents tied to Paul Manafort.

Giuliani was planning to leave Sunday and return Wednesday, he told POLITICO in an interview Friday afternoon. During his trip, Giuliani was expecting to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who was elected president of Ukraine last month and who has reportedly said he’s looking to replace one of the prosecutors involved in the cases.

“I just want to tell him, ‘Don’t let these crooks talk you out of the investigation. There are real facts there they’ve got to investigate,’” Giuliani said. “A lot of this stuff is a lot easier for them to get. They do get nervous if they think the government is going to scuttle this investigation.”

But later Friday, Giuliani said he had canceled his trip, explaining his change of plans in a text message to POLITICO that the original offer for a meeting was a “set up” orchestrated by “several vocal critics” of Trump who are advising Ukraine’s new president-elect. “Only got name yesterday and told pres elect is in hands of avowed enemies of Pres Trump,” Giuliani wrote. “Useless meeting.”

Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president said Friday he didn’t know much about Giuliani’s planned trip but wanted to speak with him about it.

“I have not spoken to him at any great length, but I will,” Trump said in the interview. “I will speak to him about it before he leaves.”

The former New York mayor for weeks has been talking with reporters about the Biden-Ukraine connection, insisting it is a scandal.

“I don’t see how you get from here to the presidency without that being investigated,” Giuliani said earlier on Friday, swinging back at critics who say the president’s attorney is openly encouraging a foreign government to meddle in the American election.

“If I wanted to meddle in the election, I’d be talking about it a year from now,” Giuliani said. “I’d have kept it for myself and I’d have popped it right before the Democratic convention. That’d be fun.”

Trump’s critics have long feared that the president would pressure the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump and his allies led chants of “Lock her up!” in reference to Clinton, though there has been no public follow-up on the Clinton investigation since the arrival of the Trump administration.

More recently, Barr has come under fire for his reply to Sen. Kamala Harris during a hearing last week where the attorney general did not explicitly answer the California Democrat’s questions about whether Trump or anyone else in the White House asked or suggested the DOJ launch an investigation.

“I’m trying to grapple with the world ‘suggest’,” Barr replied during the hearing. “I mean there have been discussions of, of matters out there that uh … they have not asked me open an investigation.”

Harris, who is running for president, followed up by asking if the White House had hinted at an investigation, and the attorney general replied, “I don’t know.”

Several former national security and law enforcement officials took issue later Friday with the president’s comment that he was within his right to approach Barr about a possible Biden investigation.

“Past Republican and Democratic administrations alike have recognized the critical importance of the wall of separation between the White House and DOJ when it comes to criminal investigations,” said Matt Axelrod, a former senior Obama Justice Department official. “This president’s belief that he can instruct the Attorney General to investigate his political rival is a wild break from past precedent and would represent a dangerous assault on the rule of law.”

Susan Hennessey, a former attorney at the National Security Agency wrote on Twitter after this story published that Trump’s comment was a “disturbing development people should pay attention to.”

[Politico]

Trump hotels exempted from ban on foreign payments under new stance

The Department of Justice has adopted a narrow interpretation of a law meant to bar foreign interests from corrupting federal officials, giving Saudi Arabia, China and other countries leeway to curry favor with Donald Trump via deals with his hotels, condos, trademarks and golf courses, legal and national security experts say.

The so-called foreign emoluments clause was intended to curb presidents and other government officials from accepting gifts and benefits from foreign governments unless Congress consents.

But in a forthcoming article in the Indiana Law Journal, the Washington University Law professor Kathleen Clark reveals justice department filings have recently changed tack. The new interpretation, Clark says, is contained in justice filings responding to recent lawsuits lodged by attorneys generals and members of Congress.

Clark’s article notes that in more than 50 legal opinions over some 150 years justice department lawyers have interpreted the clause in a way that barred any foreign payments or gifts except for ones Congress approved. But filings by the department since June 2017 reveal a new interpretation that “… would permit the president – and all federal officials – to accept unlimited amounts of money from foreign governments, as long as the money comes through commercial transactions with an entity owned by the federal official,” the professor writes.

The justice department stance now closely parallels arguments made in a January 2017 position paper by Trump Organization lawyer Sheri Dillon and several of her law partners. On 11 January 2017, just days before he was sworn in, Dillon said Trump isn’t accepting any payments in his “official capacity” as president, as the income is only related to his private business. “Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with an office,” Dillon said.

That goes against what many experts believe.

“For over a hundred years, the justice department has strictly interpreted the constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments clause to prohibit federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments, absent congressional consent,” Clark told the Guardian.

“In 2017, the department reversed course, adopting arguments nearly identical to those put forward by Trump’s private sector lawyers. Instead of defending the republic against foreign influence, the department is defending Trump’s ability to receive money from foreign governments,” Clark added.

A justice department spokesperson declined to comment, but pointed to its filings in the emoluments lawsuits which Clark has noted contain five arguments similar to those used by Trump’s business lawyers. Among the key justice arguments is that the foreign emoluments clause only was intended to prohibit the president accepting gifts and employment compensation from a foreign government, but allows him to benefit from what it calls “commercial transactions”.

Other legal scholars also voice strong qualms about the justice department’s current position on emoluments and criticize the administration’s lax attitude about conflicts involving Trump and his business empire.

“The heart of the matter is that these are clauses meant to guard against undue foreign influence and conflicts of interest,” John Mikhail, a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said.

Two attorneys general from the District of Columbia and Maryland have filed lawsuits arguing the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where numerous foreign and state delegations have stayed or hosted events, has violated the anti corruption clauses. Some 200 members of Congress have also filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries.

The inspector general at the General Services Administration, which oversees the government-owned Old Post Office building leased by the Trump International Hotel, has faulted the agency for “improperly ignoring (the) emoluments clauses” and for conflicts of interest involving the hotel while Trump is in office.

Former intelligence officials also expressed concerns. “There’s a perception among lobbyists for foreign governments that the White House is for sale,” said Robert Baer, a 21 year CIA veteran with a Middle East background. “It’s a counter intelligence nightmare.”

The Trump Organization did pledge that while Trump was president it would donate any profits from foreign entities to the treasury. To that end it has written checks for $342,000 to the government covering the years 2017 and 2018. But some ethics watchdogs have questioned the methodology for calculating these payments, arguing it doesn’t account for foreign revenues to Trump businesses which overall have had yearly losses.

Further critics note that while Trump opted to let his two sons run his real estate businesses, and pledged he would not be involved with it as long as he was president, he has not been shy about publicly touting his properties including his Scottish golf course. Advertisement

A chief focus of critics and the emolument lawsuits has been the Trump International Hotel which has become a mini mecca for numerous foreign delegations – including ones from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Turkey and the Philippines – who have used it for overnight stays and various meetings.

The hotel is leased from the GSA for 60 years and located on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks from the White House. The IG’s report this January said the lease should have been reviewed again with Trump’s election to determine if it was in violation of the emoluments clause.

Critics of Trump’s ongoing ties to the Trump International and his business empire also note that some countries with major political and business problems in Washington have frequented his properties. “It appears that President Trump may be benefiting from foreign use of his properties designed to influence his decisions,” said the former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards.

For instance, a 60-person Malaysian government delegation stayed at Trump International in the fall of 2017 at a time when the justice department was conducting a major corruption investigation of Malaysian officials including the then prime minister, Najib Razak, who had a White House meeting with Trump during their stay, as first reported by radio station WAMU and Reveal.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively courted Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent at least $270,000 at his DC hotel after Trump won the election, booking 500 rooms over an estimated three-month period, according to a Washington Post report.

Last March, a Saudi delegation traveling with the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemed to enjoy a lavish stay at Trump’s New York hotel, which helped to reverse a two-year revenue decline at the property, according to the Washington Post.

These foreign dealings with Trump hotels are exhibit A for many critics of the weak kneed enforcement of the emoluments clause in the Trump era.

“This administration gives off every appearance of turning the White House into a giant cash register,” said Mikhail. “ Rather than drawing bright lines between the Trump Organization and the Trump administration they seem intent on blurring those lines.”

The lawsuits have to wend their way through the courts – which could see tough battles given mixed court rulings thus far. But critics in Congress and outside are raising more questions about emoluments and Trump’s business conflicts as new issues keep arising.

“Congress now must conduct independent oversight so the American people can determine for themselves whether the President is acting in our nation’s best interests or his own,” said congressman Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House committee on oversight and reform.

Mike Carpenter, who served on the National Security Council in the Obama years, added: “When foreign powers patronize the president’s businesses it creates an enormous national security risk.”

[The Guardian]

Trump lashed out at Whitaker after explosive Cohen revelations

President Donald Trump has at least twice in the past few weeks vented to his acting attorney general, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced the President’s actions in crimes his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation.

The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.

Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign — something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector. The episodes also offer a glimpse into the unsettling dynamic of a sitting president talking to his attorney general about investigations he’s potentially implicated in.

Whitaker and William “Bill” Barr, Trump’s nominee to replace Sessions, are facing increased scrutiny this week for their criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Whitaker refused to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe. And a memo from Barr came to light in which he wrote that Trump’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey did not amount to obstruction.

Trump has already shown a willingness to use the Justice Department to settle political scores. As CNN previously reported, the President questioned Whitaker about the progression of the investigation against Hillary Clinton when Whitaker was Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff.

“It seems very clear that the only reason that Matt Whitaker was ever appointed to this role was specifically to oversee the Mueller investigation,” Mueller biographer Garrett Graff said on Friday in an interview on CNN’s Newsroom.

With Sessions, Trump ranted publicly about how he did nothing to curtail the Mueller investigation. Sessions had recused himself from oversight because of his role on the Trump campaign.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now,” the President tweeted in August.

The Justice Department declined to comment on any discussions between Whitaker and the President.

The President’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, could not confirm the conversations with Whitaker but said the President views the SDNY prosecutors as out of control. “The president and his lawyers are upset about the professional prosecutors in the Southern District of New York going after a non-crime and the innuendo the president was involved,” Giuliani said in a statement to CNN Friday.

One source close to Whitaker pushed back on the notion that the Cohen situation caused tension between the two, emphasizing that Whitaker and the President have a “great relationship.”

[CNN]

1 2 3 8