G-7 Summit To Be Held At Trump’s Miami Golf Resort

Next year’s Group of Seven gathering of the leaders of the world’s biggest economies will take place at President Trump’s Doral golf resort outside of Miami,acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced on Thursday.

“We used a lot of the same criteria used by past administrations,” Mulvaney said. He later said it was almost as though the resort had been built for the event.

The Trump administration’s decision to host the high-profile international summit at Doral is sure to stoke the ongoing controversy about Trump’s decision to maintain his ownership of his businesses while serving as president.

“We know the environment we live in,” Mulvaney said, adding that Trump was willing to take the scrutiny.

Mulvaney noted that Doral was Trump’s suggestion that staff followed up on. He said “no” when asked whether it was better to avoid the appearance of self-dealing, pointing repeatedly to potential cost savings. He said he would not share documents on the decision-making process.

Trump made his interest in holding the summit at Doral known in August, while attending this year’s gathering in Biarritz, France.

“We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing with it,” Trump told reporters. He mentioned the resort’s proximity to Miami International Airport, abundant parking and private cabanas to host each country’s delegation. “It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens.”

According to Trump’s financial disclosures, he earned $76 million in income from Doral in 2018. But in a sign of how the Trump brand has struggled since he became a political figure, that’s a substantial drop from the nearly $116 million the resort earned for him in 2016.

Reaction from Democrats was swift and negative.

“The Administration’s announcement that President Trump’s Doral Miami resort will be the site of the next G7 summit is among the most brazen examples yet of the President’s corruption,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in a statement. “He is exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain.”

When asked whether it was appropriate to hold the international summit at Trump’s property, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters at the Capitol, “No.”

While Trump stepped away from running the Trump Organization before becoming president, he never gave up his stake in his various businesses, which include golf clubs, hotels and office buildings around the world.

There are several lawsuits moving through the courts that allege Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bans the president from accepting gifts and payments from foreign and state governments.

Noah Bookbinder — the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is one of the groups suing Trump over the emoluments issue — described the announcement as “unbelievable.”

“Given the potential consequences the president is facing for abusing the presidency for his own gain, we would have thought he would steer clear of blatant corruption at least temporarily; instead he has doubled down on it,” said Bookbinder.

Since Trump secured the GOP nomination in 2016, his properties have become favored places for Republicans to hold fundraising and political events. Federal Election Commission records indicate that Trump’s reelection campaign, GOP committees and candidates have spent millions at Trump properties.

Mulvaney said on Thursday that he himself was initially skeptical of the idea but said the event would be “dramatically cheaper” if held at Doral. He said Trump had “made it very clear” that he would not profit from having the resort host the summit.

Trump’s international properties also have come under scrutiny. This summer, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged that hundreds of service members had stayed at Trump’s Scottish resort during refueling stops there. Vice President Pence also came under scrutiny for staying at Trump’s Irish golf resort during an official visit to Ireland.

[NPR]

Trump pick for education board writes Illuminati self-help books

President Trump‘s pick for a federal education board authors self-help Illuminati books.

The Commission of Presidential Scholars awards high school seniors in the country annually, and its board is comprised of education experts like the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. Trump’s nominee to this board, George Mentz, was announced last week, The Denver Post reported

Mentz, a lawyer and online professor of wealth management at the Texas A&M University School of Law, has written books called “The Illuminati Secret Laws of Money,” “The Illuminati Handbook,” “50 Laws of Power of the Illuminati” and “100 Secrets and Habits of the Illuminati for Life Success.”

“If you conceive of your desire, you can then imagine that your goal will take place with belief, and then you will be able [to] retrieve the opportunity from the world’s storehouse of riches,” he wrote in his book “Spiritual Wealth Management.”

The nominee said he uses the word “Illuminati” in his books about money and wealth partly for marketing reasons.

“Just because I use the word Illuminati, don’t let that get you too excited,” Mentz told The Denver Post. “If you look the word up, it means ‘illumination.’ How to be more aware, conscious, a better person.”

Mentz has donated thousands of dollars to Trump’s campaign and political action committee, after supporting him for three decades, The Denver Post report said.

[The Hill]

Trump demands to meet whistleblower, warns of ‘big consequences’

President Trump on Sunday evening railed against the whistleblower and other individuals at the center of a growing scandal involving his phone call with Ukraine’s president, warning there could be “big consequences.”

“Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called “Whistleblower,” represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way. Then [Rep. Adam] Schiff made up what I actually said by lying to Congress,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

“His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber,” he continued, before adding that he wants Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, “questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.”

“In addition,” he added, “I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the ‘Whistleblower.’ Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences!”

[The Hill]

A top State Department official at the center of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint just resigned

Kurt Volker, the US State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, resigned on Friday, following the release of the declassified version of a whistleblower complaint at the center of Democratic lawmakers’ inquiries on impeaching President Donald Trump.

Volker, was mentioned in the complaintthat was released Thursday morning. According to a section titled “ongoing concerns,” Volker met with Ukrainian leaders to help “navigate” Trump’s demands for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after a July 25 phone call. Volker was said to have been accompanied by Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.

According to the whistleblower, who spoke with numerous US officials who looked at readouts of the meetings, the two US diplomats allegedly “provided advice” to the Ukrainian leaders on Trump’s “demands.”

Volker served part-time in his position, according to The New York Times, and served as the US ambassador to NATO. His resignation was first reported by The State Press, Arizona State University’s student-run newspaper.

House lawmakers issued a deposition for Volker, in addition to other US officials mentioned in the whistleblower complaint, to testify before Congress next week.

Volker’s resignation comes after a whistleblower brought to light the existence of a controversial phone call between the US and Ukrainian president. In a publicly released summary of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, the US president was said to have asked the Ukrainian president for a “favor” in investigating a conspiracy theory about the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US presidential election.

Trump had also requested Zelensky to “look into” unproven allegations of misconduct from former Vice President and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to the summary.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and the anonymous whistleblower has also indicated that they want to testify about the potential misconduct, according to information obtained by CNN

Trump denied there was a “quid pro quo” arrangement during the call with President Zelensky, who met the US president in New York on Wednesday. Zelensky publicly echoed Trump’s description of a cordial call, and he said he did not want to be involved in the “democratic, open elections of USA.”

[Business Insider]

Update

Volker’s role in helping Trump to interfere in the 2020 election was corroborated by… Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. No really. Look:

Trump Admits He Talked to Ukraine About Joe Biden

U.S. President Donald Trump appears to have admitted Sunday that he did talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about unsubstantiated corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

The admission came after days of news reports, allegations, stonewalling, and denials about claims that the president threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine as leverage to force Zelensky to launch a probe that could damage one of his main rivals in next year’s election.

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son [contributing] to the corruption already in Ukraine,” Trump told reporters Sunday.

But the president insisted that he did “absolutely nothing wrong” in the call, adding that the conversation was “perfect.”

The president once again leveled the same unsubstantiated allegations against Biden on Twitter on Sunday night:

Trump’s concession came only after the Wall Street Journal reported that the president had pressed Zelensky up to eight times to work with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate allegations against Biden and his son.

Trump and his allies have claimed, without providing any evidence, that Biden used his position as vice president to pressure Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating possible criminal charges against Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian energy company.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son, and a Ukrainian prosecutor general said in May that the company did not violate Ukrainian law by having Hunter Biden in a paid position on its board.

The phone call with Zelensky, which formed part of a complaint by an intelligence community whistleblower, took place on July 25. That was prior to the U.S. approving $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, though CNN reports that this was not explicitly mentioned during the call and Trump said Sunday there was “no quid pro quo” in his calls for an investigation.

The White House and the Department of Justice have so far refused to release the transcripts of the call despite demands to do so from Congress.

[Vice]

Attorney General Barr Gives Award to Lawyers for Backing Brett Kavanaugh

Last year, the Justice Department gave the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service, the second highest honor in the department, to prosecutors who secured the conviction of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a ringleader of the Benghazi terrorist attack.

This year, the New York Times is reporting that Attorney General William Barr is giving the award to DOJ lawyers who worked “to support the nomination” of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Former federal prosecutors blasted the news as an unprecedented perversion of justice. “What a joke,” tweeted Elie Honig, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc. And now AG Barr is using it to honor… Team Kavanaugh.”

Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault during his confirmation process by Christine Blasey Ford. Investigations into her accusations, and Kavanaugh’s response, nearly derailed his nomination. Then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped one hundred Justice Department lawyers to review Kavanaugh’s paper trail, which the Times reported some saw as “an unusual insertion of politics into federal law enforcement.” The FBI did its own investigation of Ford’s accusations, but it was limited in scope by the White House and did not interview key sources, including Ford.

Kavanaugh has been a reliable ally of President Donald Trump on the court, while Barr has emerged as perhaps the president’s most high-profile defender inside the administration, shielding Trump from public criticism and indictment following release of the Mueller report.

[Mother Jones]

Trump Administration Reverses Standards For Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs

The Trump administration is rolling back requirements for new, energy-efficient lightbulbs. The Energy Department announced the move on Wednesday, withdrawing standards that were to be put in place to make commonly used bulbs more efficient. 

The new standards were included in energy legislation implemented under President George W. Bush and finalized under the Obama administration. They were set to go into effect in January 2020 and gradually phase out incandescent and halogen bulbs. This includes the everyday pear-shaped bulbs as well as bulbs used for items such as bathroom vanities, recessed lighting and candle-shape lights, to be replaced with energy-efficient, LED versions, which are illuminated by light-emitting diodes. 

In its announcement of the rollback, the Energy Department says the new lightbulb standards were established in 2017 “in a manner that is not consistent with the best reading of the statute.” 

Last March, NPR’s Jeff Brady reported, “Thanks to a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush, shelves these days are largely stocked with LED bulbs that look more like the traditional pear-shape incandescent version but use just one-fifth the energy. A second wave of lightbulb changes was set to happen. But now the Trump administration wants to undo an Obama-era regulation designed to make a wide array of specialty lightbulbs more energy-efficient.”

Critics of the reversal say it will mean higher energy bills and more pollution. “The rollback will eliminate energy-efficient standards for lightbulbs that were slated to take effect in January that would save consumers billions of dollars and reduce millions of tons of climate change carbon dioxide emissions,” says Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

“The Trump administration is trying to protect technology that was first invented in the 1800s. It’s like trying to protect the horse and buggy from the automobile technology. It makes no sense to go back to technology from two centuries ago, when we have new technology today which saves consumers money and helps protect the environment by reducing the amount of power that we need,” deLaski said. 

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the affected bulbs account for billions of light sockets that are currently in use in the U.S. 

“The rollback will lead to higher energy bills for homes and businesses, plus significantly more pollution harming our health and the environment due to all the extra electricity that will need to be generated,” the NRDC said in a statement.

Some companies that manufacture lightbulbs opposed the expansion to higher standards of energy efficiency. 

DeLaski says, “Every time a consumer shifts to an LED, that lightbulb is going to last 10 years or longer. So the lightbulb manufacturers are trying to save technology that keeps the consumer coming back to buy another bulb every year, but still wastes a lot of energy.” 

The rollback is likely to face legal challenges from environmental groups, which said they would sue if the standards were reversed.

[NPR]

Trump made ‘suggestion’ Pence stay at president’s Irish golf club

President Donald Trump suggested that Vice President Mike Pence stay at his Irish golf club on an official trip funded by taxpayer dollars, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told reporters Tuesday.

Pence, who is traveling with his wife, sister, and mother, is staying at the president’s golf club in Doonbeg, Ireland, during his visit to the country. Rather than stay in Dublin, where he is set for a day of meetings and events with Irish officials, Pence is making the back-and-forth trip from Doonbeg to Dublin, more than an hour flight each way.

Originally, Pence was scheduled to conclude his trip in Doonbeg, where he has familial ties, after attending World War II commemoration ceremonies in Poland.

On whether the president asked Pence to stay at his Irish golf club, Short said: “I don’t think it was a request, like a command. … I think that it was a suggestion.”

“It’s like when we went through the trip, it’s like, well, he’s going to Doonbeg because that’s where the Pence family is from,” Short said before describing the president’s suggestion. “It’s like, ‘Well, you should stay at my place.'”

“It wasn’t like a ‘you must,'” Short added. “It wasn’t like, ‘You have to.’ It’s a facility that could accommodate the team. Keep in mind, the Secret Service has protected that facility for him, too, so they sort of know the realities, they know the logistics around that facility.”

Short said the president was not having Pence stay at the resort for free, insisting that the club was the only facility in Doonbeg that could accommodate the vice president’s entourage. He said he didn’t have a cost estimate yet.

“We always explore lower cost options, which is why, you know, you have basically different footprints for this trip as well,” Short said. “But when you’re in Doonbeg tonight and you’re with the vice president on some of the official visits he’s also doing, you’ll also see there are not a lot of options in that community.”

After speaking to reporters, Short told a New York Times reporterthat Pence is “personally paying all family expenses.”

Speaking with reporters later Tuesday, Pence said he understood “political attacks by Democrats” regarding his stay at Trump’s resort.

“But if you have a chance to get to Doonbeg, you’ll find it’s a fairly small place and the opportunity to stay at the Trump National in Doonbeg, to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel, made it logical,” he added. “We checked it with the State Department. They approved us staying there.”

The president has come under scrutiny for using taxpayer dollars at his properties both in the U.S. and overseas. Last month, Trump even suggested that next year’s G-7 summit should be hosted at his Miami golf resort, insisting he would not profit off such a venture.

Since taking office, the president has spent roughly 300 days at Trump properties, according to an NBC News count. Ahead of his inauguration, Trump chose to turn control of his company over to his two adult sons and a senior Trump Organization executive rather than divest from his large portfolio.

[NBC News]

Barr books Trump’s hotel for $30,000 holiday party

Attorney General William P. Barr is planning a holiday treat for his boss.

Last month, Barr booked President Trump’s D.C. hotel for a 200-person holiday party in December that is likely to deliver Trump’s business more than $30,000 in revenue.

Barr signed a contract, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, for a “Family Holiday Party” in the hotel’s Presidential Ballroom Dec. 8. The party will feature a buffet and a four-hour open bar for about 200 people.

Barr is paying for the event himself and chose the venue only after other hotels, including the Willard and the Mayflower, were booked, according to a Justice Department official. The official said the purpose of Barr’s party wasn’t to curry favor with the president.

Barr holds the bash annually, and it combines holiday festivities and a ceilidh, a party featuring Irish or Scottish music.

“Career ethics officials were consulted, and they determined that ethics rules did not prohibit him from hosting his annual party at the Trump hotel,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the party is not a Justice Department event.

Barr’s decision to book his boss’s hotel marks the latest collision between Trump’s administration and his business, which the president no longer operates but from which he still benefits financially.

Trump said Monday that he was likely to hold next year’s Group of Seven international summit at his golf resort in Doral, Fla. Already the federal government and GOP campaigns have spent at least $1.6 million at his properties since he entered office, according to a Post analysis, though the actual figure is likely to be higher because of the difficulty of obtaining up-to-date records.

Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement official, has previously faced criticism for adopting language that hews closely to Trump’s. For example, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III complained that Barr’s characterization of his investigation — which closely mirrored the president’s — “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s final report. Experts have cited that and other examples in questioning Barr’s independence from the president.

“It creates the appearance that high-level political appointees or allies of the president may feel like they need to spend money at the president’s businesses as a show of loyalty, and that is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable and should make taxpayers deeply uncomfortable,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

The Trump Organization declined to comment. Representatives from the Willard Hotel declined to comment, citing the company’s privacy policy. A spokeswoman for the Mayflower Hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Barr’s decision to book the Trump hotel is noteworthy, in particular, because Justice Department attorneys are defending the president’s business in court. Trump’s D.C. hotel has hosted a number of foreign governments as clients, business that has generated two lawsuits, one from the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. and the other from about 200 Democratic members of Congress.

Both cases are being considered in federal court, and the Justice Department is defending the president’s position that he has not run afoul of the anti-corruption provisions in the Constitution called the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses.

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D), a plaintiff in one of the emoluments cases against Trump, said Barr’s plans make him fear “that all this does is it normalizes conduct of presidential supporters or would-be supporters, who clearly know a clear avenue to curry favor with the president and that is to do business with the president’s business.

White House aides, including inside the White House Counsel’s Office, have warned Trump and Cabinet officials against making official visits to his properties.

Barr’s event falls into a different category. It isn’t an official event — it’s a party. His contract requires that he spend $4,500 to rent the ballroom — space designed by Ivanka Trump before she joined her father in the White House — and $135 per person for a buffet and open bar, a number that is likely to change after Barr chooses a menu for the event.

Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s ethics record, called Barr’s decision to book Trump’s hotel “one of those things that doesn’t violate the rules, but it’s really troubling.”

“He keeps sending signals that his loyalty is to a politician and not to the country,” Shaub said. “And it’s part of an ongoing erosion of credibility at the Department of Justice.”

It’s difficult to determine whether Barr will pay market rate for the event, as the Justice Department official asserted he would. The contract, sent to Barr at his Northern Virginia home, calls for a minimum of $100 per person for food and beverage before adding 35 percent for taxes and tip. It requires that Barr pay at least $31,500, even if he cancels the event.

The hotel’s publicly available menu lists a “banquet dinner” as costing $115 per person for two hours plus $30 for each additional hour. A hosted bar costs $29 for the first hour per person and an additional $12 per hour for each additional hour. If Barr opts for that level of service at those prices, the food and beverage bill for 200 guests would probably top $45,000.

Hotels typically have lots of available space on Sunday nights, leading them to offer less expensive rates. A contract the hotel signed with Virginia Women for Trump for a Monday event in the summer of 2018, obtained separately by The Post, required a $3,050 room rental fee and a $39,000 banquet fee for a much larger group, 818 people, though it did not include an open bar.

Hempowicz said that if Barr receives a discount from the hotel, it would give other Americans dealing with the Justice Department reason for concern, whomever the party is for.

“If the attorney general gets a discount while the Justice Department defends the hotel in court, that is not how the justice system is supposed to work and it’s not how the Department of Justice is supposed to work,” she said.

[Washington Post]

Trump denies bedbug infestation at Doral resort after club settled lawsuit in 2017

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to slam Democrats for spreading a “false and nasty rumor” that his Doral, Florida, golf club, where he has said he hopes to host a gathering of world leaders for a major summit next year, is infested with bedbugs.

“No bedbugs at Doral,” Trump said. “The Radical Left Democrats, upon hearing that the perfectly located (for the next G-7) Doral National MIAMI was under consideration for the next G-7, spread that false and nasty rumor. Not nice!”

But in fact, a possible bedbug infestation was the subject of a 2016 lawsuit, in which a New Jersey man who sued for $15,000 in damages alleging that he woke up covered in bites and sores after a night in one of the resort’s villas.

According to a complaint filed in Miami-Dade County Court, Eric Linder, 66, awoke on the morning of March 8, 2016, “to discover that he had multiple welts, lumps and marks over much of his face, neck, arms and torso.”

Linder said he then issued a complaint to the resort’s management, who went to test both rooms he had stayed in for bedbugs.

“[Linder] was advised by the Trump resort staff and/or management that the guest room in the Jack Nicklaus Villa building tested positive for bedbugs,” the complaint alleged. “Trump National Doral and the Jack Nicklaus Villa building in particular, has a history of severe bedbug infestation, going back to at least the beginning of 2016.”

In a court filing responding to the lawsuit, lawyers for the resort denied all of the allegations leveled by Linder, and leveled an attack against Linder saying he, “conducted himself so carelessly and negligently that his conduct was the sole proximate cause or contributing cause to the events of which he complains.”

The resort never was compelled to expand on that attack, however, because it reached an out-of-court settlement with Linder and the case came to a close in May 2017.

The settlement included a confidentiality clause, so both Linder and the resort have been barred from speaking further about the matter.

Neal Hirschfeld, who represented Linder in the case, told ABC News that the president’s tweets “would not have any effect” on the settlement and said that the case is, “long over.”

Separately, Linder did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment on the matter.

[ABC News]

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