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How Republicans Helped A Corporate Crony Rip Off PPP Millions

Monty Bennett was just another faceless right-wing millionaire on the long list of high-dollar donors to Donald Trump — until he suddenly surfaced in April as the nation's biggest bagger of government cash in the emergency Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP is the $660 billion rescue package for America's thousands of small businesses, helping them keep people employed during today's shutdown of the U.S. economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bennett was among the first in line for payroll relief, applying for $126 million and immediately getting about 55 percent of that. But wait. There's nothing mom-and-popish about Monty's business. Operating through a maze of tightly interwoven financial trusts and corporate subsidiaries, he runs a sprawling Dallas-based conglomerate named Ashford Inc. that owns and operates 130 hotels and luxury resorts across the country including the Marriott Beverly Hills and the Ritz-Carlton in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Rubio Promotes Shady Border Wall Fundraiser

A serial fake news creator launched a GoFundMe campaign to solicit funds from Trump supporters to build the wall Mexico was supposed to pay for — and Sen. Marco Rubio thinks it’s a great idea.

Brian Kolfage created the “We The People Will Fund The Wall” page, with the stated goal of raising $1 billion.

“If the 63 million people who voted for Trump each pledge $80, we can build the wall,” Kolfage promises. So far, he has raised $11.6 million. He’s also soliciting checks on a separate website to be sent directly to him.

On Friday, Rubio used his platform as a sitting senator — he has 3.6 million followers on Twitter — to promote the dubious crusade. He hailed Kolfage as a “true American hero” and praised him for taking “the initiative on the border wall.” In Rubio’s view, Kolfage “shames those who for political reasons irrationally oppose making America safer.”

The tweet came in the midst of a series of tweets from Rubio supporting Trump and his plot to shut down the federal government unless he gets $5 billion to fund his needless wall.

But in promoting Kolfage, Rubio is exposing millions to a campaign put together by an individual with a troubled past.

An Iraq War veteran, Kolfage ran a Facebook page called Right Wing News as part of what NBC News called “a ring of affiliate sites that frequently trafficked in conspiracy theories.”

Right Wing News was pulled down by Facebook in a part of a crackdown on fake news. Kolfage’s page was one of many described by Facebook as “using fake accounts … to drive traffic to their websites” or “were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”

After Facebook pulled his page, Kolfage created a group called Fight4FreeSpeech and began soliciting online donations for it.

Kolfage doesn’t mention any of his questionable past in his GoFundMe solicitation to “fund the wall.” Instead, he promises donors that their money will go “to the right place” because he has “contacted the Trump Administration to secure a point of contact where all the funds will go upon completion” and claims to have “very high level contacts already helping.”

He also assures his donors that “this is not a scam” and offers, as proof, the fact that he is using his real name and has appeared repeatedly on Fox.

And Fox has been boosting the bizarre campaign, giving him air time on both Fox News and Fox Business.

Now his operation is getting free advertising from his own senator. The amplification could lead to millions more being thrown into Kolfage’s coffers, despite his troublesome past.

There’s no reason to think that Kolfage’s latest project is any more credible than his past ventures. And if the people who are sending him their money end up getting scammed, Rubio can take some credit for promoting the ill-conceived effort.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

By A Narrow Margin, Senate Panel Clears Tillerson’s Path To Be Secretary Of State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil Corp Chairman Rex Tillerson, narrowly won approval from a Senate committee on Monday, but is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 to approve Tillerson, with every Republican backing the former oil executive and every Democrat opposing him.

His approval by the panel, a victory for Trump, had been in doubt until earlier on Monday, when Senator Marco Rubio, a committee member who had been Tillerson’s most vocal Republican critic, said he would back the nominee.

Tillerson’s confirmation by the 100-member Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats, is not expected before next week. Democrats want more time to debate and the chamber may not be in session all this week.

Rubio’s backing had been in doubt after his tough questioning during Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, focusing on issues including concerns about Tillerson’s support for human rights. Rubio ultimately decided he would approve the nominee in deference to Trump, as well as to fill a critical top job.

Democrats said they voted against Tillerson over fears he might lift sanctions on Russia, where he did business for years, questions about his views on human rights and his refusal to recuse himself from matters related to his former employer during his entire term as the top U.S. diplomat.

Tillerson pledged to recuse himself only for the year required by law.

Amid Democratic anger over allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Tillerson also raised committee hackles by saying he did not know Exxon Mobil lobbied against sanctions on Russia while he was running the company.

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, said Tillerson’s “business orientation” and responses at his hearing “could compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years.”

The Senate confirmed only two of Trump’s Cabinet nominees on Friday, his Inauguration Day, a relatively low number among recent presidencies.

Democrats have been unable to block any of his choices because they changed Senate rules in 2013 to allow nominees to be confirmed with just a majority, not 60 votes. Instead, they have used Senate rules to slow the confirmation of nominees they say hold extreme views, are unqualified or have not completed ethics disclosures.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

#EndorseThis: Seth Meyers Looks Back At 2016’s Political Train-wreck

The astute Seth Meyers offers “a closer look” back at the political train-wreck of 2016 — beginning with Donald Trump’s pouting refusal to accept the results of the Iowa Republican caucus (because Ted Cruz cheated, albeit without Russian help). The Late Night host reviews amusing moments we might have forgotten, following a year we may well prefer to forget: from Clinton’s awkward appeal for the youth vote to the trashy insult contest between Marco Rubio and Trump that concluded with the latter advertising his genitalia.

Meyers clearly feels special affection for Ben Carson, Trump’s clueless nominee for housing secretary, whose long, strange political trip culminates in a remarkable moment when he abruptly breaks off a live TV interview to go find his luggage. And Vice President Joe Biden sums up the entire fiasco with a pithy head-slap.