Inspector general: Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for his wife

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated department travel policies by bringing his family members in government-owned vehicles, the agency’s internal watchdog concluded on Thursday.

The Interior Department’s inspector general (OIG) found in a new report that Zinke and his wife Lolita brought a Park Police security detail on a vacation, costing more than $25,000, though there was no policy prohibiting it.

Despite a policy stating that people not engaged in government business cannot ride in Interior vehicles, “we found that Secretary Zinke’s wife and other family members had occasionally ridden with him in government vehicles,” OIG investigators said in a their report late Thursday.

The report said that despite the prohibition, the Interior solicitor’s office approved Zinke’s family’s travel “on a case-by-case basis.”

OIG investigators also found that Zinke had asked Interior employees to designate Lolita Zinke as a volunteer for the agency, which would allow her to travel in official vehicles without approval or reimbursement.

Zinke decided against the appointment due to the “optics,” but denied that it was to get around travel rules, OIG said.

The OIG report came the same day that Interior denied that the Trump administration planned to install a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the inspector general’s office. HUD Secretary Ben Carson had previously said that the appointee, Suzanne Israel Tufts, would be the new acting inspector general at Interior, which would effectively demote Mary Kendall, the current highest-ranking employee in the watchdog office.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift framed the Thursday report as an exoneration.

“The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel,” she said.

“Additionally, the secretary received the same exact legal advice from the solicitors as previous secretaries and he acted consistently. The report even said so.”

After investigators started looking into the issue, Interior changed the travel policy to allow family members on official trips.

In the four official trips that investigators probed, Lolita Zinke and another family member reimbursed Interior for the costs of her travel.

Interior said an unidentified person in the solicitor’s office approved the family travel, despite knowing that internal policies prohibited it.

“She explained that other DOI employees could use personal vehicles for government travel, but because Secretary Zinke had a security detail that used government vehicles, he did not have that option. She said she generally deferred to a secretary’s security detail to decide who should be allowed in the vehicles,” the report said, paraphrasing the solicitor’s office employee.

In addition, Zinke brought a number of non-government travelers on a National Park Service boat for a trip to California’s Channel Islands. Interior designated them as “stakeholders,” meaning they did not have to reimburse the agency for travel.

Two of those travelers had hosted a fundraiser for Zinke’s congressional campaign in 2014, and the family of one used to own property on one of the Channel Islands, investigators said, facts that ethics officials were not aware of prior to the trip.

[The Hill]

Trump’s golf cart rentals cost taxpayers more than $300K

President Trump‘s golf cart rentals in the U.S. have cost taxpayers $300,675 since he took office, TMZ reported.

Federal documents indicate many of these expenses come from Trump’s time at Mar-a-Lago, according to the online tabloid. Secret Service uses the golf carts to follow Trump on his golfing excursions.

The total expense of Trump’s golf outings, including Secret Service protection, comes out to an estimated $77 million, according to TMZ. The more than $300,000 figure only refers to Trump’s domestic golf outings, the news outlet reported.

Critics have often slammed Trump over the cost and frequency of his golf trips. Most recently, the president was met with large protests when he played at a Virginia golf course on the day of the late Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) funeral at the beginning of September.

Democratic lawmakers in July penned a letter to the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security demanding details on Secret Service expenses during Trump’s trip to his golf course in Scotland earlier that month. The Democrats were responding to a report that indicated Trump’s time on his Turnberry golf course cost taxpayers up to $1.2 million.

Some have accused the president of profiting from his golf trips personally, as he typically visits his own clubs, an accusation that the Trump Organization has pushed back on.

“For United States government patronage, our hotels charge room rates only at cost and we do not profit from these stays,” George Sorial, the Trump Organization’s executive vice president, said in a statement to People Magazine.

[The Hill]

Trump Weighs in on New Kaepernick Ad: Nike is a ‘Tenant’ of Mine Paying ‘A Lot of Rent’

President Donald Trump appeared to explain why he hasn’t attacked Nike yet for partnering with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernicktoday, as he told the Daily Caller that “Nike is a tenant of mine.”

Over the weekend, Nike announced that it’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign would focus on Kaepernick, who claims he was forced out of the league for protesting police brutality by kneeling during pregame national anthems. Conservative were quick to attack Nike for the advertisement push — which shows Kaepernick alongside the quote, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” — with some even burning their Nike shoes and cutting the swoosh logo off their socks and shorts.

Surprisingly, Trump did not immediately join in on the attacks, but told the Daily Caller today, “I think it’s a terrible message. Nike is a tenant of mine. They pay a lot of rent.”

The former real estate investor remark about Nike paying him rent is a reference to the location of Niketown New York.

Trump continued:

“But I think it’s a terrible message that they’re sending and the purpose of them doing it, maybe there’s a reason for them doing it, but I think as far as sending a message, I think it’s a terrible message and a message that shouldn’t be sent. There’s no reason for it… As much as I disagree with the Colin Kaepernick endorsement, in another way — I mean, I wouldn’t have done it.”

“In another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do,” he added. “But I personally am on a different side of it.”

Trump sparked a mini culture war last year after he attacks NFL players for protesting police brutality while in uniform, calling the athletes that do kneel for the anthem sons of bitches.

[Mediaite]

Reality

Donald Trump is breaking the law. Specifically 18 U.S. Code § 227, “Wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions by a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch,” which includes the President or anyone else in the Executive Branch.

Trump was involved in scuttling FBI building across from Trump’s DC Hotel: Inspector General report

The Inspector General of the General Services Administration on Monday released an in-depth report showing President Donald Trump was involved in scuttling plans by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to build a new headquarters.

The president was mentioned over three dozen times in the report.

The Inspector General report found that GSA Administrator Emily Murphy’s testimony before Congress on the scandal, “was incomplete and may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with the President or senior White House officials in the decision-making process about the project.”

The Trump administration invoked executive privilege to prevent the inspector general from learning exactly what was said when President Trump allegedly intervened in the rebuilding process.

The FBI plan would have created a large construction zone across the street from Trump’s luxury DC hotel.

The investigation was initiated by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), the Vice Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“This IG report demonstrates that Administration officials obscured the White House’s involvement in the FBI headquarters project,” Connolly concluded.

“When we began this investigation, the prospect that President Trump was personally involved in the government-led redevelopment of a property in close proximity to the Trump Hotel was dismissed as a conspiracy theory,” he added. “Now, the president’s involvement in this multi-billion-dollar government procurement which will directly impact his bottom line has been confirmed by the White House Press Secretary and government photographs.”

Connolly also urged further investigation.

“This IG report is only the beginning. We must develop a comprehensive understanding of the President’s involvement in this procurement and what it has cost the United States in terms of both national security and taxpayer dollars. I am calling on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to convene immediate hearings on this matter and to subpoena any GSA officials who are suspected of misleading Congress,” he demanded.

[Raw Story]

Trump Threatens FBI Over Hillary Clinton Emails: ‘I May Have To Get Involved’

President Donald Trump on Saturday issued a chilling warning to the FBI, accusing the agency of ignoring “tens of thousands” of Hillary Clinton’s emails and warning that he “may have to get involved.”

His tweets came less than an hour after similar ones criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, adding fodder to their monthslong feud and fueling fresh rumors that Sessions’ days in office are numbered.

Trump has been lashing out at the Justice Department all week after his former campaign chair Paul Manafort was found guilty on numerous corruption charges as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Manafort’s conviction came shortly after Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, implicating the president in election interference.

Trump and his allies have long used the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state as a way to discredit the Justice Department, particularly as the special counsel investigation has come to fruition.

The president blames Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe in May 2017, which ultimately lead to Mueller’s appointment.

Sessions on Thursday fired back in one of his strongest rebukes of the president to date.

“The actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said.

[Huffington Post]

Trump blames Sessions for Cohen pleading guilty to campaign finance fraud in rambling Fox News interview

President Donald Trump on Wednesday pointed the finger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not doing enough to stop his former “fixer” Michael Cohen from pleading guilty to campaign finance charges.

During an interview with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, Trump admitted that it would have been a little “dicey” had he ordered Cohen to make an illegal campaign contribution that would be hush money for women who allegedly had affairs with him.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday pointed the finger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not doing enough to stop his former “fixer” Michael Cohen from pleading guilty to campaign finance charges.

During an interview with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, Trump admitted that it would have been a little “dicey” had he ordered Cohen to make an illegal campaign contribution that would be hush money for women who allegedly had affairs with him.

Unlike the allegations being levied against Trump, however, Obama was not found to have had any part in failing to report the donations, and the donations in question were not being used to pay out hush money to ex-mistresses.

Despite this, however, Trump said that the two cases were very similar — and then took a veiled shot at Sessions.

“He had a massive campaign violation,” Trump claimed. “But he had a different attorney general, and they viewed it a lot differently.”

[Raw Story]

Trump: Cohen’s hush-money payouts didn’t break campaign finance laws

President Trump on Wednesday insisted there was no violation of campaign finance laws when his longtime lawyer paid a porn star and Playboy centerfold hush money — and blamed his predicament on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Asked by “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt if he knew about the payments, Trump claimed he only found out about the payments made by admitted tax cheat Michael Cohen after the fact.

“Later on I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did. And they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing, that’s a much bigger thing,” the president said in a 50-second snippet of an interview that will air on the show Thursday morning beginning at 6 a.m.

“Did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me. I tweeted about it. You know, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of campaign,” the president said, suggesting that since his personal or his company’s money was involved, no laws were broken.

“In fact my first question, when I heard about it was did they come out of the campaign? Because that could be a little dicey and they didn’t come out of the campaign, and that’s big. But they weren’t. It’s not even a campaign violation,” he continued.

In the “Fox & Friends” clip, Trump also made an oblique reference to purported wrongdoing by former President Barack Obama.

“If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but they had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently,” he said, an apparent reference to either Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch, Obama’s two attorneys general.

The feds fined Obama’s 2008 campaign for failing to expeditiously report last-minute contributions.

“It is, ethically and morally, entirely of a different character,” said Dan Petalas, former acting general counsel and head of enforcement at the Federal Election Commission.

Cohen on Tuesday pleaded guilty to a series of charges and said Trump had directed him to arrange the payments to influence the election.

Corporations are not permitted to contribute to campaigns, and money intended to influence an election must be reported.

[New York Post]

Media

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]

1 2 3 9