Trump administration holds off on new Russia sanctions, despite law

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies.

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency.

Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election.

But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions.

“From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

The measure, known as the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” or CAATSA, required the administration to list “oligarchs” close to President Vladimir Putin’s government and issue a report detailing possible consequences of penalizing Russia’s sovereign debt.

[Reuters]

Eric Trump charity paid Trump Organization companies $150K during election

Eric Trump’s charitable foundation paid nearly $150,000 to President Trump’s business during the 2016 presidential race, according to newly released tax documents reported by the Daily Beast on Thursday.

The younger Trump’s foundation, now called Curetivity, paid a total of $145,145 to four Trump companies in 2016, down from $322,000 the year before, according to the report.

Of that, $98,730 went to President Trump’s Westchester golf resort in New York, while smaller amounts were distributed to Trump’s clubs in Palm Beach, Fla., the Bronx and the Trump SoHo hotel.

Eric Trump’s charity regularly held charitable events at his father’s resorts and clubs, and the Trump Organization would then bill the foundation for services used.

Forbes reported last June that President Trump previously insisted that his son’s foundation pay the Trump Organization for the events, despite the fact that the services could be offered for free.

Forbes also reported that Eric Trump had in the past falsely claimed that his charity uses Trump Organization locations completely free of charge.

The foundation was holding events at Trump Organization properties as recently as September, when Forbes reported that Curetivity hosted a charitable event at the Trump National Golf Club in New York.

Eric Trump defended his foundation’s expenses in a statement to The Hill in September, noting the organization’s charitable work for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

“In the 10 years of operation, the Eric Trump Foundation [raised] over $16.3 million for St. Jude and maintained an expense ration of less than 10 percent,” Trump said in September.

The foundation’s dealings have come under some scrutiny. Last June, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s (D) office opened an investigation into whether Trump’s foundation improperly funneled money to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

[The Hill]

Sessions Made What Might be His Most Racially Discriminatory Decision Yet and Barely Anyone Noticed

In an extraordinary move that is not getting nearly enough attention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department letter that warned state courts about the unlawful practice of forcing low income defendants to pay fines or face jail. Courts across the country were (and many still are) enforcing these type of fees in order to generate revenue. When people fail to pay the fees typically imposed for minor traffic infractions or city code violations, courts will issue arrest warrants, send people to jail or take away their driving licenses.  The problem with all that? In America, we don’t believe in debtor’s prisons. Oh, and the practice is unconstitutional. That means illegal. The U.S. outlawed debtor’s prisons in 1833. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that jailing indigent debtors was illegal under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause

“The idea that the Department of Justice doesn’t care about the United States Constitution in courts is so wrong, and really unfortunate. It is a message that should not be sent, and has practical implications,” the Honorable Lisa Foster, who served as the Director of the Office for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice said to Law&Crime.  Foster authored the “Dear Colleague” letter that was sent out in March 2016, and was rescinded by Sessions on Thursday.

Maybe the worst part of all about this decision? The fines and fees disproportionately impact minorities who can’t afford to pay fines right away and often find themselves in jail. It’s not just me saying this, there is study after study proving this.

Imagine getting pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign. You get a $100 ticket. You can’t pay it right away, so your license gets suspended. Then you have to drive to work to support your family but get pulled over and thrown in jail for having a suspended license. Don’t believe me? The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 alleging that the small town of Alexander City, Alabama (population 15,000) was running a “modern-day debtor’s prison” where poor people who couldn’t pay city fines were forced to sit in jail instead. 

The stories go on and on.

Now to be clear, the “Dear Colleague” that was sent last year under the Obama administration was not some kind of earth shattering, super left-wing mandate. The letter was literally just guidance notifying local judges, prosecutors, attorneys and advocates about the law. It was a letter that state municpalities had asked for. Here are some examples of what the letter instructed:

 (1)Courts must not incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fines or fees without first
conducting an indigency determination and establishing that the failure to pay was
willful;
(2) Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to
pay fines and fees;
(3) Courts must not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fines or
fees;
(4) Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel, when
enforcing fines and fees

The DOJ attorneys go on to cite very well-established Supreme Court opinions like Bearden v. Georgia (1983) to back up their guidelines.  The SCOTUS opinion found that the due process and equal protection principles of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit “punishing a person for his poverty.”  In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held tha tthe government can’t jail someone for failure to pay a fine.  The strange thing about all of this is that until Attorney General Sessions came along, this was a pretty non-partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed there was a problem here.

In fact, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which is a well-known conservative non-profit organization for state legislators, was also opposed to these type of excessive fees and fines. In their resolution against the practice they wrote: “excessive criminal justice financial obligations can contribute to unnecessary incarceration as some studies have found 20 percent of those in local jails are incarcerated because of failure to pay a fine or fee, which can make it even harder for the person to obtain employment and add to the burden on taxpayers.”

The initial “Dear Colleague” letter, which has now been rescinded, was in response, in part, to the DOJ’s Ferguson Report which found that police were unfairly targeting minorities, and saddling residents with fines. For example, a Ferguson woman parked her car illegally in 2007, and somehow ended up having to pay $1,000 and serve 6 days in jail. That’s insane.

“It is tragic for the Department of Justice to retreat from concerns about and constitutional commitments to equal and fair treatment,” Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School, said in an email to Law&Crime.

“I think it shocking and unfortunate,” Judge Foster said.

[Law and Crime]

Donald Trump Jr. asked Russian lawyer for info on Clinton Foundation

Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told the committee that she didn’t have any such evidence, and that she believes Trump misunderstood the nature of the meeting after receiving emails from a music promoter promising incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent.

Once it became apparent that she did not have meaningful information about Clinton, Trump seemed to lose interest, Veselnitskaya said, and the meeting petered out.

“Today, I understand why it took place to begin with and why it ended so quickly with a feeling of mutual disappointment and time wasted,” Veselnitskaya wrote. “The answer lies in the roguish letters of Mr. Goldstone.”

She was referring to Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who worked for the Agalarov family. They are Russian oligarchs with Kremlin connections who had business and social ties to the Trump family. Goldstone’s emails to Trump Jr. arranging the meeting on behalf of the Agalarovs called Veselnitskaya a “Russian government lawyer” who had dirt on Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump. Goldstone has since said he exaggerated.

In her 51-page statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Veselnitskaya said she did not work for the Russian government and was not carrying any messages from government officials. She said her motive was to get the Trump team to examine what she argues is a fraud that led the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia known as the Magnitsky Act.

Her ultimate goal was a congressional investigation into that matter, she said. She has long argued that U.S.-born hedge fund investor Bill Browder lied about the circumstances of the death of his accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail, and that the U.S. government imposed Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russia, which are named after the accountant, based on a fraud. Browder and American officials dismiss that allegation, calling it part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Veselnitskaya said there was no discussion at the Trump Tower meeting of hacked or leaked emails, social media campaigns or any of the other main aspects of Russian interference in the U.S. election. Previously, she told NBC News she had raised the issue of potential questionable contributions to Clinton’s campaign by Americans accused in Russia of tax evasion.

Though some may see her answers as self-serving, Veselnitskaya’s written answers reinforced what has long been understood about the Trump Tower meeting: that Donald Trump Jr. accepted it on the promise of incriminating information about Clinton that he had been told was coming from the Russian government. And he asked Veselnitskaya directly whether she had it, according to her written answers. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were also in attendance, as were a Russian lobbyist, a Russian businessman and a translator.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate investigating committees continue to look into the Trump Tower meeting, according to multiple officials familiar with the probes.

Veselnitskaya insists they will find nothing that isn’t already known. She says she wishes the meeting had never happened.

“Now that I know the kind of apocalyptic Hollywood scenario that a private conversation between a lawyer and a businessman can be turned into, I very much regret that the desire to bring the truth to the [Congress] has thrown the U.S. president’s family, as well as Mrs. Clinton, into the whirlwind of mutual political accusations and fueled the fire of the morbid, completely groundless hatred for Russia,” Veselnitskaya wrote.

In another noteworthy aspect of her answers, Veselnitskaya acknowledged that she worked with Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, in an investigation of Browder, whose campaign led Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act.

At the time he was working on that case, Simpson and his firm, Fusion GPS, were also working with former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele on the infamous Trump dossier.

But Veselnitskaya says she had no idea about that, confirming testimony Simpson has provided to House and Senate investigators.

Some Republicans have suggested that Simpson’s work on behalf of a Russian client investigating the premise of the Magnitsky Act means the dossier could be tainted by Russian disinformation, but no evidence has surfaced to buttress that allegation.

Veselnitskaya called those allegations “unsubstantiated and outrageous insinuations.”

A lawyer for Trump Jr. declined to comment, but referred NBC News to the statement his client released in September, which said Trump Jr. wanted to “hear (the Russians) out” if they had information concerning Clinton’s “fitness, character or qualifications.”

[NBC News]

Mueller: Manafort Worked With Russian Operative Last Week

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office filed court papers to the U.S. District Court of D.C. on Monday opposing the release of Paul Manafort on bail later this month due to “newly discovered facts [that] cast doubt on Manafort’s willingness to comply with this Court’s Orders.”

According to Mueller, Manafort ghostwrote an op-ed alongside a “long-time Russian colleague” who is “currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” Manafort worked on the op-ed as late as Nov. 30—nearly a month after he was indicted by Mueller’s team. Mueller called for GPS monitoring and a “fully secured bond of unencumbered real estate.”

Mueller noted that even if the op-ed were truthful, it would be a violation of a Nov. 8 court order to “not try the case in the press.”

The editorial, Mueller wrote, “clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication.”

“It compounds the problem that the proposed piece is not a dispassionate recitation of the facts,” Mueller continued.

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates and Manafort are facing a host of charges—including money laundering and failure to register as foreign agents. The two had been under home confinement with GPS monitoring since they were charged on Oct. 30.

Manafort struck an $11 million bail deal just last week. His wife, Kathleen Manafort, would guarantee another $10 million if the former Trump campaign chief fled the country.

Mueller called for GPS monitoring and a “fully secured bond of unencumbered real estate.”

From 2004 to 2010, Manafort worked as an adviser to pro-Putin Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after becoming a target in the Euromaidan protests. He returned to Ukraine in 2014 to close Yanukovych associate Serhiy Lyovochkin.

[The Daily Beast]

U.S. diplomats accuse Tillerson of breaking child soldiers law

A group of about a dozen U.S. State Department officials have taken the unusual step of formally accusing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating a federal law designed to stop foreign militaries from enlisting child soldiers, according to internal documents reviewed by Reuters.

A confidential State Department “dissent” memo, which Reuters was first to report on, said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries. [tmsnrt.rs/2jJ7pav]

Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against Islamist militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

[Reuters]

Leaks Show Wilbur Ross Hid Ties to Putin Cronies

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings — much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process — are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers — and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”

Overall, the document leak provides a rare insight into the workings of the global offshore financial world, which is used by many of the world’s most powerful companies and government officials to legally avoid paying taxes and to conduct business away from public scrutiny. More than 120 politicians and royal rulers around the world are identified in the leak as having ties to offshore finance.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the documents also contain references to offshore interests held by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is no evidence of illegality in their dealings.

Ross’ widespread financial interests

In Ross’s case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest.

That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

“The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you’d have to have more information than what is listed on that form.”

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesperson, issued a statement saying that he recuses himself as secretary from any matters regarding transoceanic shipping, and said he works closely with ethics officials in the department “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

The statement said Ross “has been generally supportive of the Administration’s sanctions of Russian” business entities. But the statement did not address the question of whether he informed Congress or the Commerce Department that he was retaining an interest in companies that have close Russian ties.

In his submission letter to the government, Ross pledged to cut ties with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests.

Ross’s apparent ethical probity won praise, even before he signed the divestment agreement, from both sides of the political aisle.

‘Our Committee Was Misled’

The documents seen by NBC News, however, along with a careful examination of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, tell a different story than the one Ross told at his confirmation. Ross divested most of his holdings, but did not reveal to the government the full details of the holdings he kept.

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

“You look at all of these names,” Clark said, referring to the financial entities, “and they actually look like a code. And what we actually have to do is find — in a sense — a code that decrypts what these names mean and what these companies actually do.”

She said the way the companies were listed was deliberately vague. “I would say this gives the appearance of transparency,” she said, referring to Ross’s disclosure documents. “It’s sort of fake transparency in a sense.”

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for executive branch oversight, approved Ross’s arrangement, and it was left almost entirely unchallenged by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

And a cursory look at Navigator’s annual reports reveal an apparent conflict of interest. Navigator’s second-largest client is SIBUR, the Russian petrochemical giant. According to Navigator’s 2017 SEC filing, SIBUR was listed among its top five clients, based on total revenue for the previous two years. In 2016, Navigator’s annual reports show SIBUR brought in $23.2 million in revenue and another $28.7 million the following year.

The business relationship has been so profitable that in January, around the time Ross was being vetted for his Cabinet position, Navigator held a naming ceremony for two state-of-the-art tankers on long-term leases to SIBUR.

The Kremlin’s inner circle

One of the owners of SIBUR is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. He has been barred from entering the U.S. since 2014 because authorities consider him a Specially Designated National, or SDN, who is considered by Treasury to be a member “of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”

The Treasury Department statement said that Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” and that Putin had investments with a company previously owned by Timchenko, as well as access to the company’s funds.

Daniel Fried, who was the State Department sanctions coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the connection to Timchenko’s interests should have raised alarm bells.

“I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” Fried said. “I just don’t get it.”

Another major SIBUR shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, who, like Timchenko, has close ties to the Kremlin. One of his companies, Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, was placed on the Treasury’s sanctions list in 2014.

Included in the Appleby documents are details of an internal discussion that resulted in the law firm dropping Mikhelson as a client in 2014, over concerns regarding his financial affiliations.

“I would say to anybody who asked,” said Fried, “treat SDNs as radioactive. Stay away from them.”

A third shareholder of SIBUR – and deputy chairman of the board – is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova. After the wedding, Shamalov’s meteoric rise to wealth led him to own as much as 21.3 percent of SIBUR’s stock until April, when he sold off around 17 percent for a reported $2 billion.

“It’s a new generation which is currently being prepared and groomed… to inherit whatever power and wealth Putin’s team has accumulated over the past years,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister in Putin’s government who is now working with the opposition.

Milov also said companies like SIBUR are often the way sanctioned Kremlin insiders have to keep doing business despite restrictions.

The Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko, Mikhelson, or Shamalov. It said he was not on the board of Navigator in March 2011 when the ships in question were acquired, or the following February when the charter agreement with Sibur was signed. It said Sibur was not under U.S. sanctions now or in 2012. The statement said Ross was on the board of Navigator from March 30, 2012 to 2014, and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator’s shares.

But as The Guardian reported Sunday, other public documents suggest a different story. A Navigator news release on March 2, 2012, said that Ross was already on the board at that point, and Sibur’s annual report for 2012 said the deal with Navigator was signed in March. In addition, Ross’ company issued a news release on Aug. 10, 2012, saying that the company had agreed to acquire a majority stake in Navigator.

Fried said he has no doubt of the connections between SIBUR and the Kremlin.

“If any senior official of the U.S. government, much less a Cabinet secretary … had any business dealings with sanctioned individuals, direct or indirect,” he said, “I would be appalled.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said there needs to a close examination of whether Ross’ testimony to the Senate violated perjury laws. Painter also said Ross must recuse himself from all Russia-related matters because of the SIBUR connection.

“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”

[NBC News]

Trump reverts to campaign-trail name-calling in Twitter rant calling for probe of DNC

President Trump issued a flurry of tweets over a five-hour span Friday urging the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee over a joint fundraising agreement they signed in August 2015.

Trump’s accusations follow publication by Politico of an excerpt from former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s upcoming book. Brazile alleges she found “proof” that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

Previous presidents have avoided even seeming to direct the Justice Department on whom to investigate — but not Trump.

Trump reverted to his campaign-trail name-calling of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), again referring to her as “Pocahontas.”

He also in one post called Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “Crazy Bernie.” Trump has described this kind of rhetoric as “modern day presidential.”

Trump’s epic Twitter rant took place in the hours and minutes before he was set to depart the South Lawn via Marine One for his Air Force One flight to Hawaii to kick off his 12-day swing through Asia.

Implicit in the messages was more criticism of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, though Trump did not mention the nation’s top prosecutor by name.

Asked later Friday if he would fire the attorney general if he doesn’t investigate Trump’s Democratic political rivals, the president said, “I don’t know.”

Two White House officials quickly cautioned against reading too much into Trump’s comments, reiterating that he has no plans to fire Sessions. And although the White House maintains that Trump’s tweets are “official record,” it says Trump has not ordered Sessions or the FBI to do anything related to Democrats.

The aides said the tweets were a media savvy way to deflect attention from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This week, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, were indicted on 12 counts, and former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying about his dealings with Russians who were offering “dirt” on Clinton.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump Deleting Tweets After Luther Strange’s Loss Raises Legal Questions

After the candidate whom President Trump backed in Tuesday’s Alabama Senate primary, Luther Strange, lost to Roy Moore, Trump summarily deleted several tweets he had made in support of Strange. However, they were archived on ProPublica’s Politiwhoops website.

Among them: “Luther Strange has been shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement. Finish the job-vote today for “Big Luther”

And: “ALABAMA, get out and vote for Luther Strange-he has proven to me that he will never let you down!#MAGA”

It’s not clear why Trump (or someone on his behalf) acted to attempt to remove the evidence that he backed Strange. The president had been very vocal in his support for Strange, including holding a rally in Alabama on Sept. 22. And while on the Internet nothing is ever really deleted, Trump’s actions to remove the tweets from his feed have raised some legal questions.

In June, two government watchdog groups, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, brought a lawsuit against the Trump administration in part for deleting other tweets, arguing it was in violation of the Presidential Records Act.

According to the website of the National Archives, which administers the act, it places “the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.”

At the time the lawsuit was filed, CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said that “by deleting these records, the White House is destroying essential historical records.”

But the Alabama Senate tweets may be another matter. In an email, CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz said Trump can delete “purely political tweets,” which he said are not covered by the Presidential Records Act.

However, Libowitz said Trump has been deleting a lot of tweets, and that “particularly as the government has acknowledged @realdonaldtrump tweets to be official statements, deleting those tweets which are not purely political would violate the [Presidential Records Act] if the tweets are not archived.”

Lauren Harper of the nonprofit National Security Archive, which advocates for public access to government information, said Trump is the head of the Republican Party because of his position as president, and so there is not much differentiation between his role as party leader and as president in the instance of deleting his tweets about Strange.

Noting reports that at least six current or former White House officials used private email accounts for government business, Harper says the deletion of the Strange tweets “is part of a larger pattern” of the Trump administration’s not taking record keeping seriously.

Following the email reports, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday, “All White House personnel have been instructed to use official email to conduct all government-related work.”

Many of the tweets Trump has deleted are to correct typos. The night of the Alabama race, for example, Trump congratulated Moore and initially told him to “WIN in Nov.” A new tweet later corrected that to “in Dec,” when Alabama will hold its general election.

There was also the “covfefe” kerfuffle in May, when Trump tweeted the mysterious nonword, which was retweeted more than 100,000 times before being deleted. In June, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., introduced the “COVFEFE Act of 2017” to officially make social media part of the Presidential Records Act.

[NPR]

Donald Trump calls for NFL to create rule mandating players stand for national anthem

An NFL spokesperson declined to address President Donald Trump’s latest tweet on Tuesday, which called for the league to create a rule that mandates players stand for the national anthem.

“I am little behind on his tweets,” NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart told reporters on Tuesday. “I may catch up by the end of the day.”

Around 9 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted: “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!”

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Trump was tweeting about the Cowboys’ protest on Monday night, as well as NFL ratings. The Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones took a knee before the national anthem played for a Monday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals in Arizona.

The Cowboys’ gesture took place after a Sunday of protests throughout the NFL.

Asked again about Trump calling for a rule change, Lockhart — on a conference call where he highlighted the NFL’s “Unity” message in response to the protests — didn’t engage.

“I guess I’d say he’s exercising his freedom to speak, and I’m exercising my freedom not to react,” Lockhart said.

[USA Today]

Reality

If you want to live in a country where patriotism is compulsory, to borrow a term from the right, then you should find another country. North Korea may be of your liking.

Here in America we value freedom of speech and each individuals ability to criticize their government. Trump did it for eight years as he lead the racist “birther” movement.

The 1943 Supreme Court decision in “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette” found mandatory flag rituals to violate the constitutional requirements of democratic self-government.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” ruled the Court, “it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

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