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High Winds Blow Down Border Wall In California

A section of the border wall in southern California was blown over by high winds on Wednesday, causing the structure to fall into Mexico, CNN reported.

Mexican officials were forced to divert traffic from the area.

In an email Thursday, Ralph DeSio, a Customs and Border Protection official, said high winds “impacted a handful of panels,” adding that there were no injuries or property damage.

DeSio said that the 30-foot high wall tipped into Mexico while the concrete holding the wall in place was still drying, confirming CNN’s report. DeSio called the incident “an uncommon event,” noting winds reached speeds well over 30 miles per hour on Wednesday.

DeSio also confirmed that the construction company SLSCO Ltd was under contract for that particular section of the border wall.

In a June 2019 press release, CPB said SLSCO had been awarded an $88 million contract to replace an 11-mile section of dilapidated border wall in Calexico. According to a 2019 Forbes report, SLSCO has received contracts for border wall projects totaling almost half a billion dollars since Trump took office.

A Texas-based company, SLSCO was founded by three brothers, John, Billy, and Todd Sullivan. According to MarketWatch, the brothers donated a total of $68,000 to Republican groups or candidates in the 2018 election cycle. The only donation to a Democrat came from Johnny, who gave $2,700 to Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

In an email, SLSCO did not provide any comment about the Calexico incident, instead referring all media inquiries to CBP.

In addition to Calexico, Forbes reported that SLSCO’s other border wall projects include several controversial stretches along the Texas-Mexico border.

In one spot, the SLSCO’s construction will reportedly run straight through the National Butterfly Center, a private nature preserve. The center’s executive director, Marianna Wright, told Forbes that “big monarchs can soar over the wall to fulfill their migration instincts” but “some species like the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly … prefer to flit closer to the ground and will not be able to get over the wall.”

The Catholic Church in Hidalgo County is also upset that the border wall will cut off access to La Lomita Chapel, a small historic structure dating back to 1865 when it was built by French missionaries.

Building a border wall was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises during the 2016 election. At the time, he promised Mexico would pay for it. But when the Mexican government refused to do so, and Congress refused to provide $5 billion in taxpayer funds to do so, Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border.

He then reallocated $3.6 billion meant for the military, such as school buildings for children of active service members, to fund additional sections of the wall.

According to CBP, the Calexico border wall that was blown over was funded using 2018 appropriations, not funding from Trump’s emergency declaration.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

DeBlasio Asks New York District Attorney To Probe Trump Taxes

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that he had asked Manhattan’s district attorney to investigate discrepancies ProPublica and WNYC revealed last fall between what President Donald Trump’s company reported in filings to city tax officials and what it reported in loan filings. The discrepancies made his properties seem more profitable to a lender and less profitable to the city’s tax authorities.

After ProPublica published its findings, de Blasio said Friday, the city decided to examine the issues. That process resulted in one matter being turned over to the district attorney in November. De Blasio said he made the referral “because there is a possibility of a criminal act having been committed.” The referral related to Trump’s historic downtown skyscraper at 40 Wall Street, a city spokeswoman added.

De Blasio’s comments came during a conversation with WNYC reporter and “Trump, Inc.” podcast co-host Ilya Marritz on the “Ask the Mayor” segment of “The Brian Lehrer Show.” De Blasio, who ended a presidential bid in September, said Trump’s efforts to avoid taxes have gone beyond the measures taken by most wealthy Americans. He “consistently has believed he was above the law, even before he was president,” de Blasio said. “So this is a real problem, and I think there could be some real exposure here.”

In an emailed statement, a Trump Organization spokeswoman blasted de Blasio for “using the power of his office to try and launch an investigation into his political opponent.” The statement called the allegations “unfounded and clearly motivated by politics.”

A mayoral spokeswoman said that “the Manhattan DA is the proper jurisdiction to investigate these claims, as the city can only review what is directly reported to us. The DA has the jurisdiction to take appropriate steps if they find wrongdoing.”

A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. declined to comment.

For its October article, ProPublica used New York’s Freedom of Information Law to request records from Trump’s property tax appeals for four buildings, among them 40 Wall Street, Trump Tower and the Trump International Hotel and Tower. ProPublica compared those records with loan documents that became public when Trump’s lender, Ladder Capital, sold the debt on his properties as part of mortgage-backed securities. Both sets of records list multiple real estate and financial metrics, including occupancy, income and expenses.

In the case of 40 Wall Street, for example, documents intended for investors showed a striking rise in occupancy, illustrating the sort of “leasing momentum” that lenders and investors like to see. The company had told a lender that 40 Wall Street was 58.9 percent leased on Dec. 31, 2012, rising to 95 percent a few years later. But in filings with tax officials, the company reported it was already 81 percent leased as of Jan. 5, 2013.

A refinancing occurred in 2015, but as of 2018, the building had not met underwriters’ profit expectations, spending three months on a servicer’s “watch list” in 2016 because of lagging profit.

The story also found that in the lender’s reports, the building cited lower expenditures for property insurance and a ground lease than it did in filings made to tax officials some years. That made 40 Wall Street appear more profitable to lenders than it did to tax authorities.

A subsequent ProPublica story found that Trump Tower’s tax and loan filings also exhibited inconsistencies, even as to how much space the Trump’s company occupied in Trump Tower. The tower’s overall occupancy rate during three consecutive years appeared 11, 16 and 16 percentage points higher in filings to a lender than in reports to city tax officials, records showed.

Trump Organization attributed the discrepancies to differences in the reporting requirements for preparing tax submissions and loan submissions.

The city’s Tax Commission, which handles property tax appeals, also reviewed submissions by Trump’s company for space it owns in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a person knowledgeable about the commission said. Trump’s company had failed to report income from antennae it rents on the roof. The commission’s examination, according to the person, found no problem.

Last year, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is now in prison, testified before Congress that Trump sometimes boosted the value of his assets in documents given to lenders in order to secure loans and reduced those values to lower their tax value. The Trump Organization and Trump himself are fighting multiple subpoenas for financial and tax records.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Justice Dept Inspector Urges Change To Allow Probe Of Attorney General

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) elicited an important and revealing response from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Wednesday when she raised the prospect of Attorney General Bill Barr’s potential wrongdoing.

Harris noted that one of Barr’s ongoing investigations was “launched to do the bidding of President Trump, [and] has two objectives: One, to undermine the integrity of our intelligence community; the goal, to cast doubt on the finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to benefit the Trump campaign. And two: to intimidate the men and women of our intelligence committee by suggesting that our national security professionals will face serious consequences if they investigate wrongdoing on the part of this president or his operatives.”

She said that Horowitz has an obligation “to investigate misconduct committed by the attorney general of the United States, who is doing the bidding of the president to undermine our intelligence community. I trust you take that duty seriously.”

Horowitz said that he takes it seriously but that he’s legally prevented from looking at the misconduct of DOJ lawyers, which includes the attorney general himself.

“The law has to change, senator,” Horowitz said. ”

Despite IG Report, Barr Still Claims FBI ‘Spied Upon’ Trump

Attorney General William Barr completely misrepresented the findings of a report from the Department of Justice’s inspector general by claiming the FBI acted in “bad faith” when it began an investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign — even though the report said the exact opposite.

“I think our nation was turned on its head for 3 years based on a bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said in an interview with NBC’s Pete Williams. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”

The report, which looked into the origins of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, said nothing of the sort. It found that the Mueller investigation was legitimate and not tainted by bias against Trump, as Trump and Republicans all claimed. In fact, the report determined that there were FBI agents who were biased against Hillary Clinton.

Yet Barr — like other conspiratorially minded Republicans who have totally disregarded the report’s findings to still claim the Russia investigation was unfair — is not accepting his own department’s findings.

Instead, he defended the Trump campaign for being in contact with Russians during the 2016 campaign — when Russia was running an illegal hacking operation to try and damage Clinton and boost Trump. He said that even if campaigns are getting illegal foreign money, they shouldn’t be investigated.

“In today’s world, presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons,” Barr said. “And indeed in most campaigns there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in, and we don’t automatically assume that the campaigns are nefarious and traitors.”

Barr went on to again lie by saying the Trump campaign was “clearly spied upon,” even though the IG report concluded the opposite. And Barr added that he’s waiting for the results of another investigation he ordered, apparently hoping that it will back up the false claims he and Trump have peddled.

“I think we have to wait until the full investigation is done,” Barr said.

This is not the first time Barr has disregarded Justice Department findings to protect Trump. When Mueller’s report was completed, Barr lied about the findings to try and spin the findings before they were released.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.