Trump administration refuses to release all available aid to Puerto Rico despite earthquakes

The Trump administration is refusing to release all available disaster aid to Puerto Rico despite this week’s earthquakes, citing concerns about “corruption” and “financial mismanagement” on the island, the Daily News has learned.

President Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development was supposed to start disbursing $9.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico in September as part of a congressional allocation to beef up natural disaster readiness following the devastating hurricanes that battered the island in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.

But HUD has to date only released about $1.5 billion of those funds, and a senior agency official said Thursday that the remainder of the relief cash won’t be released anytime soon despite a string of earthquakes that rocked the island this week and left thousands of residents without power.

“Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption and other abuses, we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most: the people of Puerto Rico,” the HUD official told The News, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations.

The official did not give a timeline for when the aid will be released and downplayed the island’s need for more assistance.

“Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million — less than 1% of those funds,” the official said.

Congressional Democrats were outraged and said the Trump administration is breaking the law by withholding the congressionally approved money.

“The ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a Thursday press conference.

Queens-Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said HUD’s own inspector general recently concluded there’s nothing to suggest the island can’t properly manage the aid.

She also said it isn’t HUD’s prerogative to block the funds, as they were approved by Congress.

“The real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump’s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering,” Velazquez told The News.

Velazquez joined Queens-Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in sending a letter earlier this week to HUD Secretary Ben Carson demanding the outstanding $8.3 billion be released to Puerto Rico immediately, arguing the island needs whatever assistance it can get in the wake of the earthquakes.

Schumer said Carson had not responded as of Thursday and reiterated a call for the administration to end its “counterproductive vendetta” with Puerto Rico.

“As opposed to erecting hurdles to recovery, the administration should be clearing a path, righting past wrongs and delivering the support our fellow American citizens so clearly need,” he said.

At least one person has died since a magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Several major aftershocks have followed, destroying homes and leaving two-thirds of the island without electricity.

Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico earlier this week, opening up about $5 million in federal funds to be spent on emergency services in light of the earthquake.

But Democrats say that’s not close to enough and urged the administration to stop withholding the hurricane relief cash that was supposed to be released months ago.

“Holding these resources back means delaying the island’s economic and physical recovery, period,” Velazquez said.

Trump has had a thorny relationship with Puerto Rico’s leaders for years.

After the 2017 hurricanes, critics accused the president of racism after he expressed reluctance about releasing aid to Puerto Rico while pledging sweeping support for states like Texas and Florida when they suffered natural disasters.

Trump infamously tossed paper towels at a crowd of Puerto Ricans when he visited the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria in October 2017.


[New York Daily News]

‘Maybe we will, maybe we won’t’: Trump doubles down on threat to take oil from Syria

Donald Trump has renewed his threats to forcibly steal oil from Syria, a move which experts say would amount to a war crime.

The president defended his decision to leave a small number of American troops in the war-torn nation after a general withdrawal in October by claiming they were only there to secure Syria’s oilfields.

“They say he left troops in Syria… do you know what I did? I took the oil,” he said during a Fox News interview.

“The only troops I have are taking the oil, they are protecting the oil.”

When the interviewer, Laura Ingraham, attempted to correct Mr Trump by insisting the soldiers were not there to take the oil but to guard the facilities, the president cut her off.

“I don’t know, maybe we should take it, but we have the oil. Right now, the United States has the oil. We have the oil.”

This is not the first time the erratic former business tycoon has publicly mused about stealing Syria’s oil reserves.

In October, shortly after his abrupt withdrawal of US forces and abandoning of their Kurdish allies in the region, Mr Trump said he wanted an American oil firm to fly in to tap Syria’s oil on behalf of the government.

“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” he said.

However, such a move would likely constitute pillage and looting, actions which have long been designated as illegal under international law and the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention, which the US is a signatory to, explicitly prohibits the looting of property during conflict, defining it as a war crime.

“The president appears to believe that the US can sell the oil, based on his statements in the past about Iraqi oil and Libyan oil … thinking that we can loot countries,” Benjamin Friedman, policy director at think tank Defence Priorities and adjunct professor at the George Washington University, told The Independent last year.

“I am sure people in the White House have tried to explain to him that is not how it works.

“Taking the profits from the sale of Syrian oil for the US treasury would be illegal. That would probably qualify as pillaging under the law.”

Ironically, experts say Syria’s oil fields are not much of a prize anyway. Even before the country descended in a chaotic civil war, it only produced about 380,000 barrels of poor-quality oil a day.

In 2018, after its production was several hampered by the conflict, it produced about the same amount of oil as the state of Illinois.

Before he entered the White House, Mr Trump had said several times that the US should have “taken the oil” from the other Middle Eastern nations its armed forces had intervened in, including Iraq and Libya.

Some commentators have speculated that defence officials desperate to persuade the president to permit some US forces to remain in Syria as a counter-balance to Isis and the Assad regime were forced to appeal to his oil obsession to gain his approval.

[The Independent]

White House Pressed Agency to Repudiate Weather Forecasters Who Contradicted Trump


Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publicly disavow the forecasters’ position that Alabama was not at risk. NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department, issued an unsigned statement last Friday in response, saying that the Birmingham, Ala., office was wrong to dispute the president’s warning.

In pressing NOAA’s acting administrator to take action, Mr. Ross warned that top employees at the agency could be fired if the situation was not addressed, The New York Times previously reported. Mr. Ross’s spokesman has denied that he threatened to fire anyone, and a senior administration official on Wednesday said Mr. Mulvaney did not tell the commerce secretary to make such a threat.

The release of the NOAA statement provoked complaints that the Trump administration was improperly intervening in the professional weather forecasting system to justify the president’s mistaken assertion. The Commerce Department’s inspector general is investigating how that statement came to be issued, saying it could call into question scientific independence.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which is controlled by Democrats, announced on Wednesday that it too has opened an investigation into Mr. Ross’s actions.

The White House had no immediate comment on Wednesday, but the senior administration official said Mr. Mulvaney was interested in having the record corrected because, in his view, the Birmingham forecasters had gone too far and the president was right to suggest there had been forecasts showing possible impact on Alabama.

Mr. Trump was furious at being contradicted by the forecasters in Alabama. On Sept. 1, the president wrote on Twitter that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham posted on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

For nearly a week, Mr. Trump kept insisting he was right, displaying outdated maps, including one that had been apparently altered with a Sharpie pen to make it look like Alabama might be in the path of the storm. He had his homeland security adviser release a statement backing him up.

Mr. Ross called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings, and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president, according to three people informed about the discussions.

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

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

The statement NOAA ultimately issued later on Friday called the Birmingham office’s statement “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dr. Jacobs has since sought to reassure his work force and the broader scientific community concerned about political interference.

“This administration is committed to the important mission of weather forecasting,” Dr. Jacobs told a weather conference in Huntsville, Ala., on Tuesday. “There is no pressure to change the way you communicate or forecast risk in the future.”

In the speech, Dr. Jacobs praised Mr. Trump, calling him “genuinely interested in improving weather forecasts,” and echoed the president’s position that Dorian initially threatened Alabama. “At one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the Southeast.”

He also said he still had faith in the Birmingham office. “The purpose of the NOAA statement was to clarify the technical aspects of the potential impacts of Dorian,” Dr. Jacobs said. “What it did not say, however, is that we understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham weather forecast office, which was to calm fears in support of public safety.”

[The New York Times]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole editorial here.

[Raw Story]

Trump 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]

Donald Trump wants to hold next G7 summit at his Failing Florida golf resort

President Donald Trump wants to hold next year’s G7 summit at his Doral golf resort near Miami.

Trump visited the Doral resort for the first time in his presidency this week after holding a rally in Orlando to attend a fundraiser for his re-election campaign, the Washington Post reported. It marked the 126th visit to one of his properties since he was inaugurated.

Trump likes to visit his own properties so much that he suggested holding next year’s G7 summit, a gathering of leaders from the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, at the Doral resort or one of his other luxury properties, former and current White House officials told the Post.

Aides said that White House staffers and even the White House counsel’s office have pushed back on Trump’s official visits to his properties and voiced concerns about the appearance of him using the power of the presidency to direct taxpayer money into his own companies.

Trump has not listened to the aides and overruled a recommendation against visiting his Turnberry golf club in Scotland last year. He has since visited his golf clubs in Ireland, Los Angeles and now South Florida on official trips.

The trips have been a boon for the resorts. His companies have earned at least $1.6 million in revenue from federal officials and Republican campaigns who had to travel with Trump, according to an analysis by the Post, which reported that the real number is likely much higher because the data used only covered spending through the first half of 2017.

Republicans have even “reshaped” their fundraising schedule, with one-third of fundraisers and donor events attended by Trump being held at his own properties, according to the report. Republican fundraisers told the Post that several groups have held events at Trump’s properties in order to increase the chance that the president will attend.

“The president knows that by visiting his properties, taxpayer dollars will flow directly into his own pockets. Then, unsurprisingly, the president visits his properties all the time,” Ryan Shapiro of the watchdog group Property for the People told the Post.

An earlier analysis found that the Trump campaign and more than three dozen members of Congress had spent upwards of $4 million at Trump’s properties.

The increased political spending at Trump’s properties is at the center of a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, who allege that Trump’s profits violate laws barring the president from receiving gifts or additional payments from the federal government. Both attorneys general are also alleging that Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution because his Washington hotel accepts payments from foreign governments.

House Democrats passed an amendment in response to Trump’s frequent trips to his properties, seeking to bar the State Department from spending any money at his businesses.

“It’s against the emoluments clause of the Constitution to be making money out of the job,” said Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, a Democrat who sponsored the amendment. “And he does it every chance he can.”

Last year, taxpayers paid at least $30,000 for meeting rooms and hotel stays for then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other officials in luxury suites when Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

According to State Department emails obtained by Property of the People, the rooms cost 300 percent more than the maximum amount allowed by government policies. Taxpayers were also hit with a $1,000 bar tab that Trump aides ran up at the club, ProPublica reported.

Trump’s repeated trips to his resorts came as both his Doral and Mar-a-Lago properties have struggled to draw non-government business.

Mar-a-Lago’s revenue fell by nearly 10 percent from 2017 to last year, according to Trump’s financial disclosure. Doral’s net operating income has plummeted by 69 percent since Trump took office.

“They are severely underperforming,” a Trump tax consultant told officials earlier this year while seeking tax relief for the properties. “There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand.”

[Salon]

Trump says he’d accept dirt from a foreign government to see ‘if it’s bad’

Fox & Friends knows President Trump’s got some explaining to do.

After Trump caught heat for telling ABC News that he’d be open to receiving dirt on an opponent from a foreign government, the subject inevitably came up when he called in to Fox & Friends on Friday. The hosts invited Trump to “clarify” his comments on Thursday, but his birthday-morning call didn’t do much to settle the dust.

While Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he would “maybe” report information from a foreign government to the FBI, he told Fox “of course” he’d present “anything bad” to the agency.

“I don’t think anyone would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country,” he began. But if he were hypothetically offered dirt by someone who momentarily forgot about his patriotism, he would definitely check it out. “Of course you have to look at it because, if you don’t look at it, you’re not going to know if it’s bad,” he explained, suggesting a foreign government could be reaching out to let him know how great his opponent is. “But of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”

While Trump previously conflated opposition research and interference from a foreign government, on Friday he only mentioned undefined “bad” information, leaving it up to interpretation exactly what would be worth reporting. He wouldn’t want “bad” things affecting an election, Trump concluded — “I thought that was made clear.” 

[The Week]

Trump says he would accept dirt on political rivals from foreign governments

President Donald Trump says he would listen if a foreign government approached him with damaging information about a political rival — and wouldn’t necessarily report the contact to the FBI.

“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said in an interview with ABC News that aired on Wednesday.

“I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump went on, downplaying the idea such a move by another country would amount to election interference.

Trump and his 2016 campaign have come under intense scrutiny — and a special counsel investigation — for their contacts with Russians during the last presidential election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller detailed extensive contact between Trump campaign associates and Russians, but did not conclude there was a criminal conspiracy.

Asked Wednesday whether he would take opposition research being peddled by another government, Trump said he likely would.

“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.

“Still, Trump said he wouldn’t automatically report the foreign government’s actions to US law enforcement — something he says he’s never considered doing in his lifetime.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI,” he said. “You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do.”

“Life doesn’t work that way,” Trump said.

[CNN]

Trump to stay at Doonbeg, his money-losing golf course threatened by climate change

President Trump arrived at his golf course in Doonbeg, Ireland, on Wednesday for a two-night stay — pausing between official events in Europe to visit a business that has cost him $41 million and never reported turning a profit.

Trump, coming off an official state visit to Britain, landed at Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland and met briefly with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar before flying to Doonbeg, about 40 miles away.

The Irish Times reported that Trump originally wanted to meet with Varadkar at his golf club, but Varadkar wanted to meet at another nearby hotel. The two leaders settled on an awkward compromise: the VIP lounge at the airport.

Trump will leave Doonbeg on Thursday, visiting France for D-Day commemorations. He will return to Doonbeg on Thursday night, before flying home Friday.

Despite the odd geography of that schedule — which requires flying hundreds of miles west to Ireland, then hundreds more miles back east to France — Trump said he stayed at Doonbeg for convenience.

“We’re going to be staying at Doonbeg in Ireland because it’s convenient and it’s a great place. But it’s convenient,” Trump said before he left Washington.

The visit marks the third time Trump has paused during an overseas trip to visit one of his businesses, which he has maintained ownership of as president. He made a brief stop at his Waikiki hotel in Hawaii on the way to Asia in 2017 and spent two nights at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland last summer.

This visit has brought a large contingent of U.S. and Irish officials, as well as police and security forces, to a village of about 750 people. It was not clear how many of them, besides Trump, were staying at the Doonbeg course’s 120-room hotel.

But if they wanted to stay in Doonbeg, they didn’t have many other choices. TripAdvisor lists three hotels, total. Trump’s hotel is rated No. 1. The No. 3 is not a typical hotel but a group of “camping pods” that resemble cozy wooden sheds.

The visit is also bringing worldwide publicity to a course that Trump bought in 2014, after its former owners had struggled to turn a profit.

Trump paid $11.9 million, according to Irish corporate records. After that, Trump put in an additional $30 million into renovating and operating the property, without taking a mortgage loan.

Doonbeg was one of 14 properties that Trump bought without loans between 2006 and 2014, an all-cash spending binge that topped $400 million — defying his history as the heavy-borrowing “King of Debt.” The Trump Organization has explained this unusual spending — which defies the usual practices of the debt-loving real estate industry — by saying its other businesses produced enough cash to make it easy.

“I took a chance, I bought it and — no options, no nothing, just bought it for cash, no mortgage, no debt, no nothing,” Trump told The Washington Post in 2016. “I don’t have debt on any of them. I don’t have debt on very much, period.”

Since then, Doonbeg has never reported turning a profit, losing more than $1 million every year from 2014 to 2017, according to Irish corporate records.

In 2018, the course’s revenue rose slightly — up about 2 percent from $14.2 million to $14.5 million, according to Trump’s latest U.S. financial disclosures. But those disclosures do not show whether the course turned a profit, and the Irish records that would show profit or loss are not yet available.

The course is now waiting on two decisions from Irish planning authorities that the Trump Organization says are crucial to the club’s future.

One is on a proposed sea wall to stop the Atlantic Ocean from eroding away part of the golf course.

The Trump Organization cited climate change in its application for the permit, according to a Politico report from 2016, saying that sea-level rise and more-powerful storms had worsened the threat of erosion. Trump the politician, of course, has questioned idea that climate change is a threat at all — defying the overwhelming scientific consensus and his own golf course’s assessment of its future.

The application for that sea wall is now before Ireland’s national planning authority.

In 2018, the Trump Organization also applied to local authorities to expand the hotel by adding more than 50 new rental cottages and a large ballroom for events. It is awaiting approval from local officials.

At Doonbeg, Trump is likely to find something that escaped him in London: a warm welcome. Trump’s club employs more than 200 people, making it one of the largest employers in a rural area of County Clare. Reporters visiting the area in advance of his visit found that locals — even those who disagreed with his politics — thanked him for bringing customers and money to Doonbeg.

“People divorce Donald Trump the owner of the golf course from his politics,” said James Griffin, a member of the Trump club interviewed by the Irish Times. “People have their own ideas about his policies. The big thing here are the jobs he supports.”

[Washington Post]

Kushner unsure whether he’d alert FBI if Russians request another meeting

On “Axios on HBO,” Jared Kushner said he doesn’t know whether he’d call the FBI if he were to receive an email today like the one before the campaign’s Trump Tower meeting, which had the subject line: “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

  • Kushner said this after a tense exchange about the email he received to set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting. 

Why this matters: Kushner is now in the West Wing as senior adviser to the president. Shouldn’t an email with an offer of help from Russians trigger a mental alarm? This bolsters the perception that President Trump’s inner circle still doesn’t fully recognize the ongoing threat of Russian interference in American elections. 

  • Kushner’s response comes after FBI Director Christopher Wray said in congressional testimony that he would recommend that in the future, people contact the FBI if a foreign government offers campaign support.

What he’s saying: Kushner said people are being “self-righteous” and playing “Monday morning quarterback” by asking him why he didn’t call the FBI when he saw the email offering help for the Trump campaign from Russia.

  • “Let me put you in my shoes at that time. OK, I’m running three companies, I’m helping run the campaign. I get an email that says show up at 4 instead of 3 to a meeting that I had been told about earlier that I didn’t know what the hell it was about.”

Asked if he’d call the FBI if it happened again, Kushner said: “I don’t know. It’s hard to do hypotheticals, but the reality is is that we were not given anything that was salacious.”

[Axios]

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