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]

Trump pick for education board writes Illuminati self-help books

President Trump‘s pick for a federal education board authors self-help Illuminati books.

The Commission of Presidential Scholars awards high school seniors in the country annually, and its board is comprised of education experts like the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. Trump’s nominee to this board, George Mentz, was announced last week, The Denver Post reported

Mentz, a lawyer and online professor of wealth management at the Texas A&M University School of Law, has written books called “The Illuminati Secret Laws of Money,” “The Illuminati Handbook,” “50 Laws of Power of the Illuminati” and “100 Secrets and Habits of the Illuminati for Life Success.”

“If you conceive of your desire, you can then imagine that your goal will take place with belief, and then you will be able [to] retrieve the opportunity from the world’s storehouse of riches,” he wrote in his book “Spiritual Wealth Management.”

The nominee said he uses the word “Illuminati” in his books about money and wealth partly for marketing reasons.

“Just because I use the word Illuminati, don’t let that get you too excited,” Mentz told The Denver Post. “If you look the word up, it means ‘illumination.’ How to be more aware, conscious, a better person.”

Mentz has donated thousands of dollars to Trump’s campaign and political action committee, after supporting him for three decades, The Denver Post report said.

[The Hill]

Trump defends abandoning the Kurds by saying they didn’t help the US in WWII

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to abandon the Kurds to a Turkish military incursion in Syria by saying they didn’t help the US during World War II. 

This came amid reports that Turkish ground troops were crossing the border into Syria after air strikes that began earlier in the day.

“They didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said of the Kurds. He added, “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said in a statement released by the White House that he did not endorse the Turkish military operation and thought it was a “bad idea.” But he did not refer directly to the Kurds or signal any immediate response from the US to thwart Turkey’s actions. 

The Trump administration on Sunday abruptly announced the US was withdrawing troops stationed in northeastern Syria ahead of a Turkish operation.

The move has been broadly condemned in Washington, including by top congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials, as many feel Trump paved the way for Turkey to go after key US allies. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, losing about 11,000 fighters in the process.

Ahead of the Trump administration’s announcement, Kurdish forces had recently dismantled defensive positions along the Turkey-Syria border under assurances from the US it would not allow a Turkish assault. The SDF described Trump’s decision to withdraw troops as a “stab in the back” and made clear it felt betrayed by the US. 

[Business Insider]

Trump demands to meet whistleblower, warns of ‘big consequences’

President Trump on Sunday evening railed against the whistleblower and other individuals at the center of a growing scandal involving his phone call with Ukraine’s president, warning there could be “big consequences.”

“Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called “Whistleblower,” represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way. Then [Rep. Adam] Schiff made up what I actually said by lying to Congress,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

“His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber,” he continued, before adding that he wants Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, “questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.”

“In addition,” he added, “I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the ‘Whistleblower.’ Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences!”

[The Hill]

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]

Pentagon will deploy US forces to the Middle East after attack on Saudi Arabia oil facilities

The Pentagon will deploy U.S. forces to the Middle East on the heels of strikes on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Friday.

“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper said, adding that Saudi Arabia requested the support. “We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves,” he added.

President Trump has said that it “certainly looks” as if Iran appears to be responsible for the attack, but that he wants to avoid war.

Esper reiterated that the United States does not seek a conflict with Iran and called on Tehran to return to diplomatic channels. He also said that there could be additional U.S. deployments if the situation were to escalate.

On Thursday, the Pentagon called the recent strikes on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities as “sophisticated” and represented a “dramatic escalation” in tensions within the region.

“This has been a dramatic escalation of what we have seen in the past. This was a number of airborne projectiles, was very sophisticated, coordinated and it had a dramatic impact on the global markets,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said, adding that the strike is an international problem.

A CNBC crew visiting the Khurais site that was attacked saw melted pipes and burnt areas which crews were busy repairing. Officials said that 30% of the facility was back up and running within 24 hours, and that full production at Khurais would be reached before the end of September.

The strikes on the world’s largest crude-processing plant and oil field forced the kingdom to shut down half of its production operations. What’s more, the event triggered the largest spike in crude prices in decades and renewed concerns of a budding conflict in the Middle East. All the while, Iran maintains that it was not behind the attacks.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s defense ministry said that drone and missile debris recovered by investigators shows Iranian culpability. Saudi coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said during a press briefing in Riyadh that all military components retrieved from the oil facilities “point to Iran.”

The latest confrontation follows a string of attacks in the Persian Gulf in recent months.

In June, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory. Hours later, Trump said Iran made a “very big mistake” by shooting down the spy drone. The downing came a week after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.

The U.S. in June slapped new sanctions on Iranian military leaders blamed for shooting down the drone. The measures also aimed to block financial resources for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Though Trump has threatened to bring military action or even “fire and fury” against American adversaries, he has also said he does not want to throw the U.S. into another prolonged military conflict. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump called his measured response to the strikes “a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!”

[CNBC]

Attorney General Barr Gives Award to Lawyers for Backing Brett Kavanaugh

Last year, the Justice Department gave the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service, the second highest honor in the department, to prosecutors who secured the conviction of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a ringleader of the Benghazi terrorist attack.

This year, the New York Times is reporting that Attorney General William Barr is giving the award to DOJ lawyers who worked “to support the nomination” of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Former federal prosecutors blasted the news as an unprecedented perversion of justice. “What a joke,” tweeted Elie Honig, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc. And now AG Barr is using it to honor… Team Kavanaugh.”

Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault during his confirmation process by Christine Blasey Ford. Investigations into her accusations, and Kavanaugh’s response, nearly derailed his nomination. Then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped one hundred Justice Department lawyers to review Kavanaugh’s paper trail, which the Times reported some saw as “an unusual insertion of politics into federal law enforcement.” The FBI did its own investigation of Ford’s accusations, but it was limited in scope by the White House and did not interview key sources, including Ford.

Kavanaugh has been a reliable ally of President Donald Trump on the court, while Barr has emerged as perhaps the president’s most high-profile defender inside the administration, shielding Trump from public criticism and indictment following release of the Mueller report.

[Mother Jones]

Trump reveals West Virginia voting for him in 2016 ‘helped’ basketball coach score Medal of Freedom

Basketball coach Jerry West received the Medal of Freedom Thursday, but President Donald Trump indicated it was more about the 2016 election vote than it was West’s excellence. 

According to Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, Trump said in the Oval Office that fact “West Virginia supported him so forcefully in 2016 probably helped Jerry West get the Medal of Freedom today.”

Trump has given the Medal of Freedom to several friends and right-wing ideologues. The Washington Post noted in June that he uses the Medal of Freedom much like he uses the power of the pardon: by awarding his friends.

“So far, of the 10 medals Trump has awarded, one has gone to a woman and two to persons of color,” The Postreported. “That proportion is roughly in line with those awarded by former Republican presidents. Of all those who received medals from Republican presidents, about 85 percent were men and 83 percent were white. By contrast, of the recipients recognized by Democratic presidents, approximately 77 percent were men and 75 percent were white.”

[Raw Story]

Trump made ‘suggestion’ Pence stay at president’s Irish golf club

President Donald Trump suggested that Vice President Mike Pence stay at his Irish golf club on an official trip funded by taxpayer dollars, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told reporters Tuesday.

Pence, who is traveling with his wife, sister, and mother, is staying at the president’s golf club in Doonbeg, Ireland, during his visit to the country. Rather than stay in Dublin, where he is set for a day of meetings and events with Irish officials, Pence is making the back-and-forth trip from Doonbeg to Dublin, more than an hour flight each way.

Originally, Pence was scheduled to conclude his trip in Doonbeg, where he has familial ties, after attending World War II commemoration ceremonies in Poland.

On whether the president asked Pence to stay at his Irish golf club, Short said: “I don’t think it was a request, like a command. … I think that it was a suggestion.”

“It’s like when we went through the trip, it’s like, well, he’s going to Doonbeg because that’s where the Pence family is from,” Short said before describing the president’s suggestion. “It’s like, ‘Well, you should stay at my place.'”

“It wasn’t like a ‘you must,'” Short added. “It wasn’t like, ‘You have to.’ It’s a facility that could accommodate the team. Keep in mind, the Secret Service has protected that facility for him, too, so they sort of know the realities, they know the logistics around that facility.”

Short said the president was not having Pence stay at the resort for free, insisting that the club was the only facility in Doonbeg that could accommodate the vice president’s entourage. He said he didn’t have a cost estimate yet.

“We always explore lower cost options, which is why, you know, you have basically different footprints for this trip as well,” Short said. “But when you’re in Doonbeg tonight and you’re with the vice president on some of the official visits he’s also doing, you’ll also see there are not a lot of options in that community.”

After speaking to reporters, Short told a New York Times reporterthat Pence is “personally paying all family expenses.”

Speaking with reporters later Tuesday, Pence said he understood “political attacks by Democrats” regarding his stay at Trump’s resort.

“But if you have a chance to get to Doonbeg, you’ll find it’s a fairly small place and the opportunity to stay at the Trump National in Doonbeg, to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel, made it logical,” he added. “We checked it with the State Department. They approved us staying there.”

The president has come under scrutiny for using taxpayer dollars at his properties both in the U.S. and overseas. Last month, Trump even suggested that next year’s G-7 summit should be hosted at his Miami golf resort, insisting he would not profit off such a venture.

Since taking office, the president has spent roughly 300 days at Trump properties, according to an NBC News count. Ahead of his inauguration, Trump chose to turn control of his company over to his two adult sons and a senior Trump Organization executive rather than divest from his large portfolio.

[NBC News]

Barr books Trump’s hotel for $30,000 holiday party

Attorney General William P. Barr is planning a holiday treat for his boss.

Last month, Barr booked President Trump’s D.C. hotel for a 200-person holiday party in December that is likely to deliver Trump’s business more than $30,000 in revenue.

Barr signed a contract, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, for a “Family Holiday Party” in the hotel’s Presidential Ballroom Dec. 8. The party will feature a buffet and a four-hour open bar for about 200 people.

Barr is paying for the event himself and chose the venue only after other hotels, including the Willard and the Mayflower, were booked, according to a Justice Department official. The official said the purpose of Barr’s party wasn’t to curry favor with the president.

Barr holds the bash annually, and it combines holiday festivities and a ceilidh, a party featuring Irish or Scottish music.

“Career ethics officials were consulted, and they determined that ethics rules did not prohibit him from hosting his annual party at the Trump hotel,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the party is not a Justice Department event.

Barr’s decision to book his boss’s hotel marks the latest collision between Trump’s administration and his business, which the president no longer operates but from which he still benefits financially.

Trump said Monday that he was likely to hold next year’s Group of Seven international summit at his golf resort in Doral, Fla. Already the federal government and GOP campaigns have spent at least $1.6 million at his properties since he entered office, according to a Post analysis, though the actual figure is likely to be higher because of the difficulty of obtaining up-to-date records.

Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement official, has previously faced criticism for adopting language that hews closely to Trump’s. For example, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III complained that Barr’s characterization of his investigation — which closely mirrored the president’s — “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s final report. Experts have cited that and other examples in questioning Barr’s independence from the president.

“It creates the appearance that high-level political appointees or allies of the president may feel like they need to spend money at the president’s businesses as a show of loyalty, and that is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable and should make taxpayers deeply uncomfortable,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

The Trump Organization declined to comment. Representatives from the Willard Hotel declined to comment, citing the company’s privacy policy. A spokeswoman for the Mayflower Hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Barr’s decision to book the Trump hotel is noteworthy, in particular, because Justice Department attorneys are defending the president’s business in court. Trump’s D.C. hotel has hosted a number of foreign governments as clients, business that has generated two lawsuits, one from the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. and the other from about 200 Democratic members of Congress.

Both cases are being considered in federal court, and the Justice Department is defending the president’s position that he has not run afoul of the anti-corruption provisions in the Constitution called the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses.

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D), a plaintiff in one of the emoluments cases against Trump, said Barr’s plans make him fear “that all this does is it normalizes conduct of presidential supporters or would-be supporters, who clearly know a clear avenue to curry favor with the president and that is to do business with the president’s business.

White House aides, including inside the White House Counsel’s Office, have warned Trump and Cabinet officials against making official visits to his properties.

Barr’s event falls into a different category. It isn’t an official event — it’s a party. His contract requires that he spend $4,500 to rent the ballroom — space designed by Ivanka Trump before she joined her father in the White House — and $135 per person for a buffet and open bar, a number that is likely to change after Barr chooses a menu for the event.

Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s ethics record, called Barr’s decision to book Trump’s hotel “one of those things that doesn’t violate the rules, but it’s really troubling.”

“He keeps sending signals that his loyalty is to a politician and not to the country,” Shaub said. “And it’s part of an ongoing erosion of credibility at the Department of Justice.”

It’s difficult to determine whether Barr will pay market rate for the event, as the Justice Department official asserted he would. The contract, sent to Barr at his Northern Virginia home, calls for a minimum of $100 per person for food and beverage before adding 35 percent for taxes and tip. It requires that Barr pay at least $31,500, even if he cancels the event.

The hotel’s publicly available menu lists a “banquet dinner” as costing $115 per person for two hours plus $30 for each additional hour. A hosted bar costs $29 for the first hour per person and an additional $12 per hour for each additional hour. If Barr opts for that level of service at those prices, the food and beverage bill for 200 guests would probably top $45,000.

Hotels typically have lots of available space on Sunday nights, leading them to offer less expensive rates. A contract the hotel signed with Virginia Women for Trump for a Monday event in the summer of 2018, obtained separately by The Post, required a $3,050 room rental fee and a $39,000 banquet fee for a much larger group, 818 people, though it did not include an open bar.

Hempowicz said that if Barr receives a discount from the hotel, it would give other Americans dealing with the Justice Department reason for concern, whomever the party is for.

“If the attorney general gets a discount while the Justice Department defends the hotel in court, that is not how the justice system is supposed to work and it’s not how the Department of Justice is supposed to work,” she said.

[Washington Post]

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