Trump Says He Stands By MBS the Same Day Murdered Khashoggi Makes Time Person of the Year Cover

President Donald Trump sat down with Reuters’ White House reportersfor a robust Oval Office interview on the same day that the politically assassinated Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was featured on TIME’s Person of the Year issue.

Despite CIA findings that strongly suggest the Saudi Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salman was behind the murder, and a recently entered bipartisan Senate Resolution condemning MBS’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s death, Trump is standing by the burgeoning leader of the Saudi Royal family, close political ally and suspected business partner for the Trump family business.

Reuters journalists Roberta RamptonJeff Mason, and Steve Hollandsat with the Commander in Chief, and among the many news items to emerge is Trump’s steadfast support of MBS.

report with bylines of Rampton and Holland claimed: “Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.”

Trump is quoted as defending his position, saying “He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally.”

The White House and State Department have shown consistent support of the Saudi leader despite political pressure from leaked CIA reports and Congressional leaders of both parties. The article reports that, when asked “if standing by the kingdom meant standing by”  the Crown Prince, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Reuters reporters followed by asking if Trump believes that his continued support is critical to MBS ascension to King, as some in the Saudi Royal family are reportedly “agitating to prevent MBS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.”

Trump responded that he was unaware of that adding, “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

[Mediaite]

Trump’s 2020 Campaign Has Reportedly Funneled Over $1 Million Into His Own Businesses

Federal election filings analyzed by Forbes say that Trump’s 2020 campaign has raked in millions of dollar from donors while Trump himself has converted at least $1.1 million of those donor funds into his own money by charging “the campaign for hotels, food, rent and legal consulting.”

Trump Tower Commercial LLC is a New York State-based entity owned by the 45th president. As of the latest campaign finance filing, the entity had charged Trump’s re-election campaign at least $665,000 in rent. An additional $225,000 in rent payments have been made to this entity through a similar arrangement with the Republican National Committee (RNC).

The extent of the space currently being rented by the 2020 campaign and the RNC is currently unknown but reporter Dan Alexander‘s reporting suggests one of two things: an extreme amount of real estate is currently being occupied–or the Trump Tower business is heavily inflating real estate prices.

Per Forbes:

Leading up to the 2016 election, the president’s campaign paid an average of $2,700 in monthly Trump Tower rent for every person listed in campaign filings as receiving a “payroll” payment. The 2020 operation, by contrast, is shelling out an average of $6,300 in monthly rent for every such person.

And that’s not all.

There’s also the matter of a separate Trump-owned and New York State-based entity known as Trump Plaza LLC. This entity currently controls a retail space, a parking garage, and two medium-sized apartment buildings.

According to federal filings, the Trump 2020 campaign has paid Trump Plaza LLC at least $42,000 in rent since November 2017–but, according to Forbes, there doesn’t appear to be any campaign activity occurring on any such property owned by the entity.

For one, the retail space simply has nothing campaign-related going on whatsoever. Same goes for the parking garage–which appears to be sub-leased to a non-Trump company at present. As for the apartment buildings? It doesn’t look like there’s any campaign-related activity happening there either.

Again, Alexander’s report:

Forbes staked out the buildings, arriving at 7:15 a.m. one November morning and staying for the next 14 hours, with the exception of an 18-minute break around 3 p.m. By our count, seven people went in and out of the twin, four-story brownstones over the course of the day. One refused to talk, and six said they had not seen any sign of the campaign in the buildings. Nor had a man behind the front desk at Trump Plaza. “I’ve been here since the beginning,” he said. “If there was any kind of office rented out for campaigning or whatever, I would know about it.”

The report goes on to speculate that it’s “unlikely” Trump’s 2020 campaign would simply hand cash over to the president for “nothing in return,” and cites an unnamed Trump 2016 staffer who said that Trump Plaza apartments would occasionally serve as crash pads for Trump campaign staff. If that’s the case, of course, it would be a lot cheaper to occasionally rent hotel rooms, but, Alexander notes, “that would not guarantee a steady stream of rent for the president.”

Breaking down that revenue stream is also illustrative.

Since Trump Plaza LLC began charging Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign “rent” in November 2017,  such payments have averaged out to some $4,200 per month. Those amounts appear to be quite a bit above market value.

According to Forbes‘ recent perusal of real estate website StreetEasy, recent rents in the same brownstone apartments have gone for $3,700 and $3,850–substantially lower prices (especially in the fiercely competitive Manhattan real estate market) than what Trump’s campaign has been paying the president’s own business for alleged campaign use of those circumspect properties.

And even if it doesn’t seem like much of up-charge? According to Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns are supposed to pay “fair market value” for all goods and services they use–especially when they use and pay their own businesses.

[Law and Crime, Inquisitr]

EPA announces new plan to weaken Obama-era greenhouse gas rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday plans to roll back a 2015 rule that put strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions coming from coal plants — a tweak the agency is labeling closer to “reality.”

The change will significantly weaken the Obama-era rule in part as an effort to help jump-start new coal plant construction in the U.S.

The proposed revisions to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) would no longer mandate that plants meet the strict emissions goals of achieving emissions equal to or less than what plants would have achieved with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The Obama administration at the time saw CCS as a feasible future technology that was important to pulling carbon out of coal plant emissions at their source. Today the technology is not generally used commercially and is pricey.

EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the Obama administration’s focus on CCS “disingenuous.”

“Their determination was disingenuous. They knew the tech was not adequately demonstrated, which is what was required under the law. This rule sets high yet achievable standards rooted in reality,” Wheeler said at a press conference at EPA headquarters.

EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum called the old rule “wishful thinking.”

“Today’s actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking,” he said in a statement. “U.S. coal-fired power will be a part of our energy future and our revised standards will ensure that the emissions profiles of new plants continue to improve.”

The new changes would limit coal plant emissions to 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour produced, a level they say can be met with modern technology including efficient boilers.

The original rule had set the limit at 1,400 pounds.

Despite the higher level of carbon being allowed into the air under EPA’s latest change, Wheeler told reporters that their study found it would “not result in significant [carbon dioxide] changes or costs.”

When asked whether the new rule means the EPA is ignoring the Trump administration’s latest report that declared that effects from climate change would result in unavoidable economic harm to the U.S, Wheeler pushed back.

“We’re not ignoring the government report. We’re still looking at the government report ourselves. We just got a briefing on it this morning from some of our career scientists,” he said.

The report was released two weeks ago.

The EPA chief said the new rule would actually be beneficial to human health because it would provide cheaper electricity to households.

“Having cheap electricity helps human health. If you have cheaper electricity, people are able to afford electricity for their house — that is one aspect of protecting human health,” he said, specifically referring to lower income populations.

[The Hill]

Saudi-Funded Lobbyists Paid For 500 Nights At Trump D.C. Hotel Right After Election

Saudi Arabia-funded lobbyists paid for rooms at President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel within a month of the 2016 presidential election and kept coming back, racking up more than 500 nights worth of rooms in three months, The Washington Post reported, citing documents and organizers of the stays.

The Saudi-backed organizers were putting up veterans who were offered a free trip to Washington to help lobby against a law that Saudi Arabia opposed, the Post reported.

(Read the full Washington Post story.)

The lobbyists at first were hosting veterans in northern Virginia, but switched to the Trump hotel in December 2016. One organizer said the move was because the Trump International Hotel offered a discount from the usual $768 a night rate, and denied it was to try to gain favor with Trump.

But some of the vets the Post interviewed said they felt like they were being used twice ― to lobby for Saudi Arabia, and then again to bring business to Trump.

“It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,” said Navy veteran Henry Garcia. He went on three trips, and said that what made the Trump hotel trips different from trips with other veterans groups were the private rooms, open bars and free dinners.

“We’ve done hundreds of veterans events, and we’ve stayed in Holiday Inns and eaten Ritz Crackers and lemonade. And we’re staying in this hotel that costs $500 a night,” said Marine veteran Dan Cord.

Trump’s business interests are in the spotlight once again as the D.C. and Maryland attorneys general served subpoenas on the Trump Organization and a dozen related businesses on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The subpoenas are seeking business documents that may show foreign payments to the hotel.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump is profiting from foreign and state spending at his D.C. hotel, in violation of the Constitution’s ban on gifts from foreign governments. The Justice Department has signaled it may try to fight the evidence-gathering process.

Trump has defended the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even after intelligence agencies fingered the prince in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi royal family and its allies have spent tens of millions on Trump hotels and condos.

[Huffington Post]

New emails show Trump’s unqualified Mar-a-Lago buddies are influencing VA policies

A new batch of emails obtained by Pro Publica show that three members of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort are influencing contract and budget decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs — despite being completely unqualified to do so.

The emails show that the three Mar-a-Lago members — Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman — were involved in “some of the agency’s most consequential matters, most notably a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans,” Pro Publica writes.

According to Pro Publica, the trio reviewed a draft of a $10 billion contract to overhaul the VA’s electronic medical records system, and they were listed among 40 different outside “experts” consulted for the contract despite lacking “any relevant expertise.”

Additionally, the emails show that Moskowitz used his position as an adviser to get the VA to adopt his mobile medical app, even though IT officials at the VA said that the app had serious functionality problems. In fact, one email shows that a VA IT official believed that “some of the code needs to be refactored and even rebuilt” for the app to work properly.

Moskowitz even recruited his son, Aaron Moskowitz, to pitch the benefits of the app during a conference between the VA and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple experts similarly pushed back on Moskowitz’s mobile app and said that “the national databases needed to make the app accurate didn’t exist,” Pro Publica writes.

[Raw Story]

Trump Organization planned to give $50 million penthouse to Putin amid Moscow deal

The Trump Organization planned to offer a $50 million penthouse suite to Russian President Vladimir Putin amid negotiations over a real estate deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to a report by BuzzFeed News. 

The bombshell report includes Felix Sater, a longtime Donald Trump associate accused of having Russian mafia ties, telling BuzzFeed News that he and Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, thought giving the suite to Putin could help sell other apartments.

“In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.”

BuzzFeed notes other unnamed officials confirmed the existence of the plan and the officials said Cohen discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.

It’s unclear whether Trump was aware of the plan, which never came to fruition due to the Trump Tower deal in Russia falling through.

Sater, a Russian immigrant who spent a year in prison for a 1991 stabbing, told the news organization that Cohen, at the time, remarked that it was a “great idea.”

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the report when reached by USA TODAY. Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Trump, said the story was “unknown to the president.”

Giuliani added the project was “too premature for anything like that” and called the idea to give Putin a suite “crazy.”

The revelations come at a time where the president’s Trump Tower deal in Moscow has come under intense scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election.

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to lying to Congress about the plan to build a Trump Tower in Russia all in the hope of shielding Trump from criticism.

Court documents filed as part of Cohen’s plea deal detailed Trump’s business dealings in Russia lasted longer during his campaign than previously acknowledged.

Federal prosecutors said Cohen lied when he submitted an Aug. 28, 2017, letter to the Senate and House intelligence committees. The letter said the project had ended by January 2016, when planning continued months longer during the presidential campaign.

Prosecutors said that Cohen lied to the committees to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and (Trump) and give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before the Iowa caucus and the very first primary in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Sater, who had a large role in developing the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York, is also under scrutiny in Mueller’s investigation.

He wrote an email to Cohen in 2015 bragging about his ties to Putin, according to the New York Times. “Our boy can be president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in one of the emails. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

The Times noted that Cohen never replied to the emails and viewed them as “puffery.” Sater, who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia, said he was simply expressing “enthusiasm” for the Trump Organization.

[USA Today]

Trump Says Pardon for Paul Manafort is ‘Not Off the Table’

President Donald Trump declined in a new interview to rule out the possibility that he could pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.

“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” Trump told the New York Post.

The President’s comments come following special counsel Robert Mueller’s accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement and lied to Mueller’s team after being found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes in August.

[CNN]

Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million from D.C. hotel in 2017

President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million in profit last year off her stake in the Trump International Hotel, while taking in at least $5 million from businesses connected to her personal brand, a newly released financial disclosure shows.

Ivanka Trump also reported taking in about $2 million in 2017 pay and severance from an entity called the Trump Payroll Corp., the disclosure said.

She received $289,000 in an advance for her book published last year, “Women Who Work,” and donated those funds to a charitable trust she oversees that “will make grants to organizations that empower and educate women and girls.” There was no indication that she received royalties in connection with the book in 2017.

The figures come from forms that high-ranking and highly paid federal employees are required to file every year in May.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are serving as senior advisers to the president without pay, but they have agreed to abide by ethics requirements for senior White House staff.

On Monday, as President Trump was in Singapore for the high-profile summit with North Korea‘s leader, Kim Jong Un, the White House began releasing the forms covering last year.

Ivanka Trump’s reported income from the hotel in calendar year 2017 was up substantially from a report she filed last spring showing about $2.4 million in income from the hotel since it opened in September 2016.

The forms provide only limited insight into the finances of individuals as wealthy as Ivanka Trump and Kushner. Amounts are typically reported in broad ranges. Also complicating comparisons is the fact that last year’s filings for new government staffers covered a 16-month period.

Disclosure forms filed earlier this year appeared to show an uptick in the couple’s debts as they entered the White House last year. It’s unclear whether that trend continued through the end of the year.

The president’s son-in-law’s filing no longer lists under assets or income his role with Observer Media, the New York-based online news organization he founded in 2007. Kushner reported earning $4.5 million from advertising revenue at the company in 2017 but stepped down last January when he joined the Trump White House.

In this year’s form, Kushner said he divested his ownership in Observer Media, though he also reported making between $100,001 and $1 million in capital gains. Kushner’s form says he does still own between $5,000,001 and $25,000,000 in stock shares for Source Media Holdings, a digital media company owned by Observer Capital that serves business professionals working in the financial, technology and health care sectors.

President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, reported taking in $569,423 in salary from Fox News from the beginning of last year until he joined the White House in April.

Bolton also earned nearly $750,000 in speaking fees during the same period — $115,000 for speaking to conferences sponsored by the Ukrainian steel mogul Victor Pinchuk.

Pinchuk’s donations of more than $13 million to the Clinton Foundation drew criticism and, during the 2016 campaign, were painted by many Clinton critics as evidence of corruption.

In September 2015, then-candidate Trump spoke to a Pinchuk conference in Kiev in exchange for a $150,000 donation to the Donald J. Trump foundation.

Bolton’s highest reported fee for a single speech, $100,000, came in May 2017 while receiving a Guardian of Zion award from the Rennert Center in Jerusalem. The next highest was a speech earlier that month to Deutsche Bank for $72,000, after a commission paid to his agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau.

[Politico]

Trump picks handbag designer, Mar-a-Lago member to be envoy to South Africa

President Donald Trump has nominated handbag designer Lana Marks to be the next US ambassador to South Africa.

Marks, a Florida resident and member of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a source familiar with the club, was born and raised in South Africa, where she attended the University of the Witwatersrand and the Institute of Personnel Management in Johannesburg, the White House said in a statement.

Marks is photographed and quoted giving a warm testimonial on the website of Mar-a-Lago’s official photographer, saying she had captured her daughter’s wedding at the club “in a very special way.”

Marks is known for luxury handbags in exotic animal skins, such as ostrich and alligator, with prices that can hover above $19,000. One of her more expensive creations, a $400,000 clutch, has been carried on the red carpet. The designer’s website features photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston carrying her goods and says her accessories have become a favorite among “royalty and entertainment style makers.”

Ballet and tennis

Described by the Palm Beach Daily as “like Trump, a relentless self-promoter,” Marks speaks Afrikaans and Xhosa, two of South Africa’s languages, according to the White House.

Her website chronicles an upbringing that included studying at the Royal Academy of Ballet. The concept for starting an exotic leather handbag line came, the site says, when Marks couldn’t find a bag to match the suit she planned to wear to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth. According to her Instagram accountshe attempted to qualify for the French Open tennis tournament in 1978.

Marks’ site also notes that she was appointed to the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government, which supports the Women and Public Policy Program. Both the board and the program focus on gender equality and improving lives around the world, the Harvard site says. The Harvard site notes that board members “engage philanthropically” with the policy program “through three annual giving tiers.”

Board members provide a minimum annual gift of $10,000 per individual member, $20,000 per Leadership Circle member and $25,000 per corporation.

[CNN]

Trump properties received $3.2 million during midterms, FEC records show

Campaigns and PACs spent at least $3.2 million at Trump-owned and branded properties throughout the two-year midterm election cycle, a CNN analysis of Federal Election Commission filings shows. And the total could rise after post-election financial reports are published by the commission.

No single group spent more than the Republican National Committee, which spent at least $1.2 million at the properties since the start of 2017.
About half of the RNC spending came in two installments — $367,000 for travel expenses at Trump National Doral Miami in mid-June, after the group’s spring meetings at the Florida club, and $222,000 for “venue rental and catering” at Mar-A-Lago in March connected to fundraising events at the resort.
Trump’s own presidential reelection campaign was also among the groups spending the most at Trump properties throughout 2017 and 2018, despite not being on the ballot. The campaign has spent more than $950,000 at Trump properties since the start of 2017.
And America First Action — a pro-Trump super PAC founded early in 2017 and funded primarily by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson — was another top patron of Trump properties, dropping at least $360,000 throughout the cycle.
Overall, the $3.2 million in spending at Trump properties during the midterms was down slightly from the 2016 presidential cycle. Between 2015 and 2016, Trump properties raked in at least $3.7 million from campaigns and PACs, with the Trump campaign itself accounting for north of $2 million of the spending during that cycle. That included rent paid from the campaign to the Trump Organization for its headquarters space in Trump Tower, floors below Trump’s office and penthouse apartment.
In 2018, the spending has gone to a mix of venue rental, catering, and travel expenses across multiple properties. Trump Tower in New York has drawn nearly $740,000; the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, has drawn $1.4 million; and a pair of Trump’s Florida properties, Mar-A-Lago and Trump National Doral, have drawn nearly $1 million combined.
In response to a request for comment on RNC spending at the properties, an RNC official said donors enjoy visiting Trump properties, and also pointed to security, convenience and price as factors in the committee’s decision-making.
The official added that Trump properties are often cheaper to rent than other venues, noting that the FEC demands the RNC receive market rates.
A Trump Organization spokeswoman did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
After Trump was elected President, he placed his business into a trust controlled by his adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, but did not liquidate his holdings or let an independent manager handle the trust without his knowledge — the approach favored by past presidents and by ethics experts, because it separates the President’s personal profit motive from his decisions on behalf of the government.
The setup has drawn criticism from ethics watchdogs, who say it allows for the appearance of a conflict of interest. The Trump administration has consistently defended the legality of the arrangement.
House Democrats, newly in control of the chamber, have vowed to bring investigations into Trump’s businesses in the coming congressional session.

[CNN]

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