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]

Mulvaney Acknowledges Quid Pro Quo In Trump Ukraine Call, Says ‘Get Over It’

The acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted on Thursday that President Donald Trump withheld foreign aid in order to get Ukraine’s help in the U.S. election.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded when a reporter pointed out that withholding funding from Ukraine “unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens” is a “quid pro quo.”

“Get over it,” he added later. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. … That is going to happen. Elections have consequences.”

[Huffington Post]

Trump publicly urges China to investigate Bidens amid impeachment inquiry

 President Donald Trump urged another foreign government to probe Joe Biden and his son Thursday, saying the Chinese government should investigate the former vice president and son Hunter Biden over the latter’s involvement with an investment fund that raised money in the country.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

While Trump said he hasn’t requested Chinese President Xi Jinping investigate the Bidens, the public call mirrors the private behavior on which Democrats are partially basing their impeachment inquiry — using the office of the presidency to press a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

It is “certainly something we can start thinking about, because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being on that kind of scrutiny, where billions of dollars is taken out of his country by a guy that just got kicked out of the Navy,” Trump said Thursday of asking China to probe the Bidens. “He got kicked out of the Navy, all of the sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”

The U.S. in the midst of a tense trade war with China. The president, discussing progress on negotiations with Beijing on a possible trade agreement just moments prior to his remarks about the Bidens, told reporters that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Chinese officials will be in Washington next week in another attempt to revive talks, Trump said.

Trump, seeking to expand his corruption accusations against the Bidens beyond Ukraine, has in recent days repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of using a 2013 trip on Air Force Two with his father, then the vice president, to procure $1.5 billion from China for a private equity fund he had started.

Prior to Thursday, Trump had not called for an investigation of the matter. The White House declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Despite Trump’s accusations, there has been no evidence of corruption on the part of the former vice president or his son. In a statement, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said the president “is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations.”

“As Joe Biden forcefully said last night, the defining characteristic of Donald Trump’s presidency is the ongoing abuse of power. What Donald Trump just said on the South Lawn of the White House was this election’s equivalent of his infamous ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ moment from 2016 — a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over the country,” Bedingfield said.

Trump, during a 2016 campaign rally, encouraged the country to meddle in the 2016 election by trying to access Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation found that within hours of Trump‘s invitation, Russian military intelligence initiated a hack against Clinton’s office. Trump and his allies have said he wasn’t serious when he made the comment.

In pushing back on Trump, Biden’s campaign previously pointed to a fact-check from The Washington Post that found Trump’s claims false while tracing the origins of the $1.5 billion figure to a 2018 book published by conservative author Peter Schweizer.

In addition, Hunter Biden’s spokesman, George Mesires, told NBC News previously that Hunter Biden wasn’t initially an “owner” of the company and has never gotten paid for serving on the board. He said Hunter Biden didn’t acquire an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office.

And when he did, he put in only about $420,000 — a 10 percent interest. That puts the total capitalization of the fund at the time at about $4.2 million — a far cry from the $1.5 billion that Trump has alleged.

Trump also said Thursday that he still wants Ukraine to conduct “a major investigation” into Joe and Hunter Biden.

[NBC News]

Reality

Lawfare: Former federal prosecutor and current professor at the University of Alabama School of Law Joyce White Vance concisely yet methodically explained why Trump’s statements constituted a crime.

“Trump just committed a felony violation of law by soliciting something of value in connection with a US election from a foreign government on national TV. 52 U.S. Code § 30121. Violating the law isn’t necessary for Impeachment but it certainly warrants it,” Vance wrote (including a citation to a statute).

She then explained how previously documented accounts of similar behavior render Trump’s conduct here even more culpable than in earlier instances of his requests for foreign assistance.

“The statute requires knowledge your conduct is a crime. After the Mueller investigation, there’s no way Trump was unaware this violates the law. Ukraine/China can you hear me is even worse than Russia, if that’s possible, because it comes from a sitting president,” she wrote.

Trump: Why aren’t we entitled to ‘learn everything about’ the whistleblower?

President Trump on Tuesday reiterated his desire to meet with and question the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s interactions with the leader of Ukraine ignited an impeachment inquiry.

The president, who in recent days attacked the whistleblower as a “fraud” and attempted to undermine their credibility, questioned why he doesn’t have the right to interview the anonymous individual.

“Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him,” Trump tweeted. “This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer, or better. No pressure at all (as confirmed by Ukrainian Pres.). It is just another Democrat Hoax!”

Trump claimed the author of the complaint “has all second hand information” and that “almost everything” the whistleblower recounted about the president’s call with Ukraine was wrong.

But neither of those things is true.

The whistleblower’s account of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky aligns with a rough White House transcript that shows Trump urged Zelensky to “look into” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and asked him to investigate a company with ties to the 2016 election.

In addition, the intelligence community inspector general released a statement on Monday night clarifying that the whistleblower had firsthand information and information from other sources in their complaint about Trump.

Democrats and the whistleblower’s attorneys have expressed concerns that Trump is endangering the person’s safety by attempting to uncover their identity and questioning their motives.

The president has ramped up his attacks on the anonymous individual behind the whistleblower complaint in recent days, claiming he should be able to meet the complainant and alleging they are partisan despite not knowing their identity.

The Whistleblower Protection Act makes it a violation for federal agencies to threaten retaliation against individuals who come forward to raise concerns of wrongdoing within the government.

[The Hill]

Trump Attacks Whistle-Blower’s Sources and Alludes to Punishment for Spies

President Trump on Thursday morning told a crowd of staff from the United States Mission to the United Nations that he wants to know who provided information to a whistle-blower about his phone call with the president of Ukraine, saying that whoever did so was “close to a spy” and that “in the old days,” spies were dealt with differently.

The remark stunned people in the audience, according to a person briefed on what took place, who had notes of what the president said. Mr. Trump made the statement about several minutes into his remarks before the group of about 50 people at the event intended to honor the United States Mission. At the outset, he condemned the former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s role in Ukraine at a time when his son Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Mr. Trump repeatedly referred to the whistle-blower and condemned the news media reporting on the complaint as “crooked.” He then said the whistle-blower never heard the call in question.

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

The complaint, which was made public on Thursday morning, said that the whistle-blower obtained information about the call from multiple United States officials.

“Over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort,” the complaint stated.

Some in the crowd laughed, the person briefed on what took place said. The event was closed to reporters, and during his remarks, the president called the news media “scum” in addition to labeling them as crooked.

Mr. Trump spoke as the director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was testifying before Congress that the president had never asked for the identity of the whistle-blower, whose complaint was initially withheld from Congress by the Trump administration. The complaint described concerns that the president was using his phone call with the Ukrainian president in July for personal gain to fulfill a political vendetta.

The ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Knight Craft, was in the room.

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

In a Twitter post later in the day, Mr. Trump referred again to the whistle-blower having “second hand information” and said it was “Another Witch Hunt!”

[The New York Times]

Media

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]

Wilbur Ross Threatened Firings at NOAA After Trump’s Dorian Tweets

The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, disavowing the National Weather Service’s position that Alabama was not at risk. The reversal caused widespread anger within the agency and drew accusations from the scientific community that the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, had been bent to political purposes.

NOAA’s statement on Friday is now being examined by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, and employees have been asked to preserve their files. NOAA is a division of the Commerce Department.

The National Weather Service “must maintain standards of scientific integrity,” the inspector general, Peggy E. Gustafson, wrote in a message to NOAA staff members in which she requested documents related to Friday’s statement. The circumstances, she wrote, “call into question the NWS’s processes, scientific independence, and ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency.”

The Commerce Department disputed the account on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross Jr. “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian,” the department said in a statement issued by a spokesman.

The spokesman declined to comment on whether Mr. Ross had spoken with the NOAA administrator or ordered the agency to rebut the statement contradicting the president’s assertion about a threat to Alabama.

The Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General did not respond to requests for comment late Monday.

The accusations against Mr. Ross are the latest developments in a political imbroglio that began more than a week ago, when Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas and Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., posted on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

Mr. Trump persisted in saying that Alabama was at risk and a few days later, on Sept. 4, he displayed a NOAA map that appeared to have been altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama in the area potentially affected by Dorian. (Alabama was not struck by the hurricane.)

Mr. Ross, the commerce secretary, intervened two days later, early last Friday, according to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president.

Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.

The political staff at an agency typically includes a handful of top officials, such as Dr. Jacobs, and their aides. They are appointed to their jobs by the administration currently in power, as opposed to career government employees, who remain in their jobs as administrations come and go.

NOAA ultimately issued an unsigned statement last Friday calling the Birmingham office’s statement “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

A senior administration official who asked not to be identified when discussing internal deliberations said that the Birmingham office had been wrong and that NOAA had simply done the responsible thing and corrected the record.

That official suggested the Twitter post by the Birmingham forecasters had been motivated by a desire to embarrass the president more than concern for the safety of people in Alabama. The official provided no evidence to support that conclusion.

[The New York Times]

NOAA backs Trump on Alabama hurricane forecast, rebukes Weather Service for accurately contradicting him

The federal agency that oversees the National Weather Service has sided with President Trump over its own scientists in the ongoing controversy over whether Alabama was at risk of a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated Alabama was in fact threatened by the storm at the time Trump tweeted Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

Referencing archived hurricane advisories, the NOAA statement said that information provided to the president and the public between Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

In an unusual move, the statement also admonished the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Ala., which had released a tweet contradicting Trump’s claim and stating, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The NOAA statement said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Released six days after Trump’s first tweet on the matter, the NOAA statement was unsigned, neither from the acting head of the agency nor any particular spokesman. It also came a day after the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser released a statement justifying Trump’s claims of the Alabama threat.

The NOAA statement Friday makes no reference to the fact that when Trump tweeted that Alabama was at risk, it was not in the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty,” which is where forecasters determine the storm is most likely to track. Alabama also had not appeared in the cone in days earlier, and no Hurricane Center text product ever mentioned the state.

Trump’s tweet that Alabama would be affected by the storm gained national attention Wednesday when he presented a modified version of the forecast cone from Aug. 29, extended into Alabama — hand-drawn using a Sharpie. The crudely altered map appeared to represent an effort to retroactively justify the original Alabama tweet.

The doctored map went viral, becoming a source of ridicule among political pundits and late-night talk show hosts, who accused the president of dishonesty.

[The Washington Post]

Trump is trying to extort Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election

The Washington Post editorial board published an alarming op-ed this week that claims President Donald Trump is trying to “extort” the government of Ukraine to help his 2020 presidential campaign dig up dirt on current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden.

According to the editorial, Trump so far has refused to grant new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a visit at the White House and has mulled suspending $250 million in military aid to the country.

While some critics of the administration have claimed that this move is designed to help Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Post’s editors claim they have knowledge that the president’s motives are even more nefarious.

We’re reliably told that the president… is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden,” the editors write. “Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

The editorial also speculates that the White House may be holding a grudge against Ukraine after a Ukrainian legislator uncovered damning information about the activities of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has since been convicted on money laundering charges related to his work as a lobbyist in the country.

Read the whole editorial here.

[Raw Story]

Trump administration violated law to keep parks open during shutdown

The Trump administration violated federal laws when it tapped entrance fees to keep the nation’s national parks open during the 35-day shutdown earlier this year, according to a legal opinion from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. 

GAO said the Interior Department moved money between accounts without authorization from Congress, in violation of federal law. The agency must report the violation to Congress, identify the officials responsible for it and explain steps it will take to prevent similar violations. It said any subsequent actions in the future would be “knowing and willful violations,” subjecting officials to penalties.

Interior did not cooperate with GAO’s investigation, according to the report. An Interior spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“We take our responsibility to Congress seriously, and will not allow an agency’s lack of cooperation to interfere with Congress’s oversight of executive spending,” GAO wrote. “Accordingly, we issue our opinion in this matter notwithstanding Interior’s failure to timely respond to our request for information.”

In a statement, Interior said it completely disagreed with the “erroneous” decision over its use of the funds.

“It’s obvious that the GAO reached their conclusion prematurely and without regard for all of the facts,” an agency spokesperson told POLITICO. “We completely disagree with the GAO’s erroneous opinion regarding our appropriate and lawful use of [Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act] funds.”

“The Department acted well within its legal authority to clean up restrooms and pick up trash, so the American people could enjoy their National Parks,” the spokesperson added.

Congressional Democrats, who released the GAO opinion Thursday, said the opinion showed the administration clearly violated the law and pushed for consequences.

“The Secretary of Interior seems to think the rule of law doesn’t apply to the Trump administration,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, said in a statement. “The Administration should now immediately report this violation and take corrective actions as required by law. This should put the administration on notice that their illegal actions will not be tolerated.”

Her Senate counterpart, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), said: “Their assurances at the time that their actions were legal have proven false, and there should be consequences for this violation.”

Then acting Secretary David Bernhardt issued a directive on Jan. 5, 2019, to tap into the entrance fees to address maintenance and sanitation issues that had developed at national parks remaining open during the shutdown.

[Politico]

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