Justice Department steps in to block whistleblowers from seeing Trump’s Washington DC hotel financial records

According to an Associated Press report, Justice Department lawyers stepped in late Friday and asked a judge to hold off on letting outsiders review financial data related to President Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington D.C.

In response to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte, who is based in Maryland, to allow a lawsuit demanding access to the records to go forward, the Justice Department asked for a stay while they appeal his decision to a higher court in Richmond, Virginia.

According to the report, allowing the case to go forward could “potentially unearth financial records such as Trump’s income tax returns.”

Plaintiffs in the case indicated they are seeking “information from the hotel, a Trump hotel steakhouse, and the General Services Administration as well as the president’s financial records.”

Justice Department lawyers objected by stating the “public interest is decidedly in favor of a stay because any discovery would necessarily be a distraction to the President’s performance of his constitutional duties.”

In response, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine issued a statement saying: “After winning two major rulings in this case already, we anticipated President Trump’s most recent motion. Nonetheless, our case is still moving forward. We are on track to propose a schedule for discovery by September 14, and we hope to request relevant documents shortly thereafter.”

Whistleblowers are hoping to use discovery to make a case for the president violating the emoluments clause, banning Trump from profiting off of his presidency.

[Raw Story]

Trump considering plan to privatize Afghanistan War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Hill]

Omarosa releases tape of Lara Trump offering her hush money

Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman on Thursday shared a recording of a conversation in which President Trump‘s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, offers her $15,000 a month to work on the president’s campaign after she was fired from the administration.

The recording, played on the air by MSNBC, reveals Lara Trump, an adviser for the president’s  campaign, discussing the flexible terms of a role for Manigault Newman. The conversation reportedly took place on Dec. 16, 2017, just days after Manigault Newman was fired from the White House.

On the recording, Lara Trump mentions a New York Times story that suggests Manigault Newman could have more to say about her time in the White House following her departure.

”They wrote about you. It sounds a little like, obviously, that there are some things you’ve got in the back pocket to pull out,” Lara Trump says on the recording.

“Clearly, if you come on board the campaign, like, we can’t have … Everything, everybody positive, right?” she adds.

Lara Trump goes on to describe the terms of Manigault Newman’s position, which she suggests would include some speaking engagements and would allow the former aide to work from Washington, D.C., or New York City, depending on her preference.

Lara Trump adds that the campaign would offer Manigault Newman a salary of $15,000 a month, which is a comparable amount to what she made in the White House.

The audio appears to confirm Manigault Newman’s claim in her new book that she was offered a job by the Trump campaign after leaving the White House. She alleges the payment amounted to hush money.

Lara Trump issued a statement shortly after the recording aired asserting that she offered Manigault Newman a job because the Trump family was concerned about her dismissal and “cared about her personally.”

[The Hill]

Trump offers White House staffers a special perk at his golf club

There’s an under-the-radar perk being offered to staffers in President Donald Trump’s administration — discounts on Trump-branded merchandise sold at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.

White House staffers who have a Secret Service hard pin identifying them as administration officials can flash it at the pro shop — where Trump-branded driver headcovers retail for $40 and a Trump golf polo tee sells for $90, according to the online Trump store — and receive the same discount available to club members, who pay a reported $350,000 to join the club.

Those discounts range from 15 percent off of any merchandise sold in the store, to 70 percent off clearance items, according to two staffers and a receipt reviewed by POLITICO.

The practice is the latest indication that being a public servant in this administration comes with special perks to sweeten the deal. The discounts available at the Bedminster club were originally pitched by the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and the president himself as a nice gesture to aides, according to the recollection of someone familiar with the setup. (White House officials denied Ivanka Trump’s involvement and said she was not even aware the discount existed.)

But ethics experts say the arrangement only highlights how Trump remains more entangled in his commercial properties than any president in American history. Those blurry lines between his government work and his private business, from which he never divested, are perhaps most fuzzy when the president is spending time with government officials on the grounds of his own properties.

Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a former associate counsel in the Obama and Clinton administrations, said the practice of offering any discounts to people identified by their Secret Service pins was “absolutely wrong.”

Discounts are not prohibited by the Office of Government Ethics if they are available to all government employees, or if it’s a standardized discount. But if they are not, the discount is considered a gift. Federal officials are also prohibited from accepting gifts in excess of $20 and are urged to decline any gifts “when accepting them would raise concerns about the appearance of impropriety.”

“It’s prohibited under the standards of conduct for any government employee to accept a gift because of their official position,” said Canter. “The fact is, people’s access to that facility is extremely limited. It’s not open to all government employees. It’s limited to staff who have access to the facility and second of all, who are given access to the Secret Service pin. It’s not OK.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not comment about the discount.

But getting perks in the pro shop goes beyond White House staffers.

Trump has pilfered his own store to charm Republican lawmakers and their aides, whom he frequently invites to join him for rounds of golf at his properties in Sterling, Virginia, and Palm Beach, Florida. GOP aides have been directed to the pro shop to pick up golf apparel — gratis — when the president saw they were not outfitted for golf. It was not clear whether Trump later personally picked up the tab or the business ate the extra expense.

The discounts remain under the radar even within the White House. One former senior administration official said he never knew about the price chop and had always paid full price for pro-shop merchandise. “I overpaid, big time,” the former official said. “Part of me wishes I knew. Part of me is glad I didn’t.” Other aides said they learned of the discount through the grapevine only after having paid full price.

The discounts are also not available across-the-board at all Trump clubs — each pro shop sets its own rules, and staffers who recently shopped at the Turnberry resort in Scotland while working for the president on his most recent foreign trip said they were expected to pay full price for the goods they brought home.

POLITICO reviewed a recent receipt that showed a current White House official receiving a 70 percent discount on a piece of merchandise that was a clearance item, and a 30 percent discount on an item from the current collection.

Norm Eisen, who served as the ethics czar under former President Barack Obama, said Trump’s habit of doling out discounted goods from his personal business is an abuse of office.

“It does have an effect on how Trump tries to secure personal loyalty and woo people away from what should be their primary and their only loyalty — to the Constitution, to public service and to the people of the United States,” Eisen said. “This is another small inducement, apparently contrary to federal law, that he uses to bind his staff to him personally.”

Trump, who throughout his life has been accused of regularly stiffing contractors and failing to pay his debts, is often a fan of generous gestures when he’s relaxing at one of his own properties. If he sees a table of staffers dining, he’ll often send over a dessert on the house, or pick up the check, another aide said.

Those gestures would be allowed if he, himself, is paying out of his own pocket to cover the meal. But they would also be prohibited by federal gift rules if he simply charged those meals to the club.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, Amanda Miller, did not return calls and emails for 12 days.

Wealthy Trump Pals Paid Rick Gates for Access to His Administration

Even as he became the target of a federal investigators, Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign No. 2 and longtime partner of Paul Manafort, was being paid last year by two Trump allies for insider access to the new administration, the New York Timesreports.

The paper identifies the men as Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fundraiser and former deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Tom Barrack, the billionaire Trump buddy who took a key role in planning his inauguration.

Broidy paid Gates $125,000 to help him in “courting foreign government clients for a defense contractor he had purchased in 2015, and pushing for policies that favored clients and prospective clients,” the Timesreports. His missions while in Broidy’s employ included advising the venture capitalist on how to get Trump to play golf with former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, whom Broidy was trying to butter up on behalf of his defense firm. The paper learned these details after it was leaked a series of emails stolen from Broidy, who has been in the news in recent months for his supposed affair with a Playboyplaymate.

Meanwhile, Barracks’s company, Colony NorthStar, paid Gates $20,000 a month for his advice on issues related to the communications industry, he said last year. Gates’s contracts with both Broidy and Barrack eventually dried up as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closed in on him. He would eventually be charged with a raft of financial crimes and illegal foreign lobbying, pleading guilty in February. He is now cooperating with prosecutors.

The Times describes these deals as Gates marketing his “administration access,” but it’s hard to imagine why Broidy and Barrack, who were both close to Trump, would need to spend so much money for access to the administration.

[New York Magazine]

Government paid $65K to Trump company for Scotland stay

The U.S. government paid roughly $65,000 for housing and accommodations for staffers at President Trump’s Turnberry golf resort, The Scotsman reported Tuesday.

The news outlet, citing government spending records, found that the State Department paid roughly 52,000 pounds — or $65,000 — to SLC Turnberry Limited, which is registered with a company whose directors include Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

The government made an initial payment on July 11 for close to $30,000 that covered hotel rooms and a “VIP visit,” according to The Scotsman.

The other payment, approved on July 10, reportedly covered hotel accommodations at the golf resort.

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

Eric Trump responded to the news report on Twitter shortly after it was published, saying the company charges its costs related to any U.S. government business, and it does not profit from the visits.
“Much more would be spent if they stayed elsewhere,” he added.

The president spent last weekend at his property, where he played golf and sat for an interview with CBS News ahead of his trip to Finland to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Scotsman reported in May that the government had paid Trump’s Turnberry resort earlier in the year to accommodate visits from administration officials.

Trump roiled ethics watchdogs after his election when he refused to fully divest from his businesses. The then-president-elect instead placed his assets in a trust controlled by Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

The latest payments are likely to ignite criticism from ethics watchdogs, who have long argued that the Trumps are using the presidency to enrich the family’s business empire.

Three separate lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration claiming that the president is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts or benefits from foreign governments without congressional approval.

One lawsuit was dismissed in December, and the other two are working their way through the court system.

[The Hill]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mediaite]

Trump’s Turnberry getaway: A little golf, a lot of promoting

President Donald Trump did not let the pressure of his high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin stand in the way of his typical Saturday routine: Tweeting followed by golf on a Trump-branded course.

“The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning, promoting his own money-losing property in Turnberry.

Trump did not plug his business from the official government account of the President of the United States, which he does not use. Instead, he gave the property a boost from his personal account, from behind the walls of his private club.

To ethics experts who criticized the president’s use of his office to promote his business, the account he uses marks a distinction without a difference. But it was the latest sign of Trump bending the presidency to fit the old lifestyle he misses — even down to sticking with his own account — rather than being shaped by the demands of the office he occupies.

During the course of his trip, Trump has conducted himself more like his pre-presidential self than ever before, while traveling. In England, he turned to the familiar pages of a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid to mouth off about a world leader — before his election, Trump’s favorite newspaper to call up and chat with was the New York Post. This time, however, he later tried to walk back his comments criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations when he seemed to realize that intervening in the fragile government of an ally was a mistake.

At a black tie dinner on Wednesday night at Blenheim Palace, he made sure that the dinner included some familiar faces from home, among the Brits — including Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and Trump friend, Wall Street billionaire Stephen Schwarzman and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

Later, he mugged for his press secretary by taking a seat in Winston Churchill’s chair while meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers, a casual photo that gave the impression of a Churchill-loving tourist, rather than a visiting head of state.

But his turn at Turnberry has been long planned, aides said. Over the past 18 months in office, associates said, he has often talked about scheduling a visit here to check on his properties.

Trump loves his Scottish clubs, friends said, and typically visited them about once a year in his old life as a private citizen with a mouthy Twitter account. Friends said he has an emotional connection to the clubs here, and often mentions his mother, who was born in Scotland, when he brings up the Trump links at Turnberry and Aberdeen.

Ahead of his trip abroad, he told associates that he was eager to hang out in Scotland and check in on his properties, noting he was frustrated he had gone too long without a visit. (He lasted visited Turnberry as a presidential candidate in 2016.)

One former adviser noted that the Scotland and England portions of the trip were meant to entice Trump to even attend the NATO Summit in Brussels, which he approached with dread, like a dessert he earned after eating his vegetables.We

At home, Trump spends most of his time away from the White House at his own properties: Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach during the winter; the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster during the summer; and the Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia, or the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., on the weekends he stays put.

His two-day break in Scotland, some downtime between from international meetings, however, marked the first time he has spent a weekend at one of his own properties while traveling abroad as president.

On Saturday morning, he tweeted that he was going to be busy with “meetings and calls” at the club, noting that he would squeeze in golf if he had the time. But just like at home, “meetings and calls” appeared to mean more time on the course. Shortly after his tweet, he was spotted playing golf with his son Eric Trump, whose “Trump” branded plane had been waiting on the tarmac when Air Force One landed here on Friday night.

[Politico]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Hill]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mediaite]

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