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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: supreme court

Trump's Dark Money Machine Is Designed To Deceive The Public

Thanks in part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the phrase “dark money” is heard a great deal these days in connection with U.S. politics. Citizens United, with its majority opinion by libertarian then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, defined campaign and election spending as a form of constitutionally protected “speech.” And it opened the “dark money” floodgates in a major way.

Roger Sollenberger, in an article published by The Daily Beast on January 19, examines the “dark money machine” of former President Donald Trump. According to Sollenberger, that operation is only getting worse — and is purposely designed to be “confusing.”

“Just when it seemed like former President Donald Trump’s dark money maze couldn’t get any darker, it looks like someone shot the lights out,” Sollenberger reports. “At least, that’s the impression experts in nonprofit law took away from a pair of previously unreported tax filings from the dark money arm of Trump’s political machine, America First Works. Those experts said it appears from the filings and other incorporation records that the advocacy group — which raised almost no money in 2021 — has closed down its original Virginia entity and opened another one in Washington, D.C. under the same name, with the same board of directors. The question is why — and it comes as Trumpworld is laying the groundwork for a second Trump term.”

On December 21, 2022, Axios’ Lachlan Markay reported that if Trump wins the 2024 election, he “will enjoy a key asset absent from his 2017 White House transition: a sprawling infrastructure already preparing to staff a new administration and immediately enact major policies.” Allies of the former president, Sollenberger notes, cite that infrastructure as a key difference between Trump and a MAGA Republican he may be running against in 2024’s GOP presidential primary: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — that is, if DeSantis decides to run. Firebrand author Ann Coulter, pundits at Fox News and Fox Business and writers for the National Review have all been pushing DeSantis for 2024.

“2021 was essentially a rebuilding year for Trump’s dark money machine,” according to Sollenberger. “That work not only came at a cost, it also appears to have happened in a black box, adding another layer of opacity on top of a fundraising and advocacy network that’s already grown so convoluted even legal experts have a hard time untangling it. In this instance, not only is it hard to follow the money, it’s hard to say for sure whether there’s all that much money to follow in the first place. At least, there appears to be a lot less of it flying around in the fractious 12 months after Trump left the White House.”

Sollenberger goes on to explain why America First Works fits the definition of a dark money operation.

“AFW is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which are often colloquially called ‘dark money’ groups,” Sollenberger explains. “These groups can raise funds in unlimited amounts, and while they don’t have to disclose their donors’ identities, the organizations can use a chunk of that unattributed money for political activity. According to its 2021 tax filing, which was first obtained by The Daily Beast, AFW — which raised about $51 million the previous year — doled out millions of dollars in transfers and grants. That filing shows that the funds all went to a handful of groups that make up a financial and political support network behind the former president.”

The Daily Beast reporter adds, “Those transactions included a $3 million grant to AFW’s 501(c)(3) counterpart, America First Policy Institute, and an additional $250,000 to Make America Great Again Policies — a lesser-known entity which has reported having a cost-sharing agreement with a new pro-Trump super PAC. AFW also paid another $250,000 for ‘research’ to Republican opposition research firm America Rising, according to the document.”

Sollenberger points out that if Trump’s dark money “maze” is “maddeningly difficult to follow,” that is “almost certainly part of the point,” according to government and campaign finance watchdogs.

Interviewed by the Beast, Brendan Fischer (who serves as deputy director of government for the watchdog group Documented), discussed the drop that occurred with America First Works in 2021 and told the Beast, “America First Works served as the dark money arm of Trump’s campaign in 2020, and it is not uncommon for a politically active dark money group to see a decline in revenue during a non-election year. But this drop is precipitous, and can’t be explained by election cycles alone…. The in-kind contributions of staff time and office space indicate that AFW employees were still working and on the payroll in 2021…. It also would be understandable if AFW was just going to spend down its existing funds and close up shop, but that’s not what’s going on either.”

The “name changes” with Trump-associated “dark money” operations, according to Sollenberger, are designed to be confusing.

“Last December,” Sollenberger reports, “an AFW spokesperson told the Daily Beast it wasn’t a name change; America First Policies had been ‘sold’ to America First Works 'in a private deal’…. However, previously unreported tax filings now show that another ‘America First Works’ was created that same year, this one in Washington, D.C. AFW1 reported a $140,100 grant to the new America First Works (AFW2), which AFW1 cites as a related entity.”

Sollenberger continues, “But The Daily Beast also obtained AFW2’s tax filing, which shows that the two groups share a slate of directors and that the grant comprised all of AFW2’s revenue for 2021. Almost all the money — around $132,000 of it — was spent on a ‘security deposit,’ the document shows, though it discloses no other underlying assets. Again, all of these moves and name changes seem designed to do one major thing: confuse.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Experts Blast Supreme Court's Feeble Leak Probe

Legal and political experts are blasting the U.S. Supreme Court’s investigation that failed to determine who leaked the draft opinion in the Dobbs case that ultimately served to overturn Roe v. Wade and void the decades-old previously-constitutional right to abortion. Some, having read the Court’s report on the investigation, state it appears the Justices and their spouses were not interviewed or investigated.

In an unsigned statement Thursday the Court announced after a long investigation, “to date” it had been “unable to identify a person responsible by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Frank Figliuzzi, the well-known former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence and MSNBC national security analyst, served up strong contempt for the process chosen by the Court, and what he suggested was the underlying reason the investigation failed to produce the leaker.

Asked point-blank on MSNBC's Deadline: White House if he believes the leaker is already known to the Court, he responded with one word: “Yes.”

Noted national security attorney Mark S. Zaid, who also handles government investigation cases, says investigators did not interview or investigate the justices or their spouses.

“Having read [the] investigative findings, I am completely struck by fact [sic] does not appear Justices (or their families) were interviewed, much less investigated,” he tweeted.

“Since bare min[imum] ‘preponderance of evidence’ was standard that could not be met w/staff, who else does that leave as leaker?” he asked.

“When is an investigation really not an investigation?” Figliuzzi also rhetorically suggested to MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace. “When you’re told what you can and can’t do, you can’t do what you need to do or talk to the people you need to talk to to solve the investigation, and, when the investigation isn’t conducted by professional investigators.”

Figliuzzi, himself an expert investigator who served as the Bureau’s chief inspector, blasted the decisions made about how the investigation would be conducted and who would conduct it.

“The U.S. Marshal Service did not conduct this investigation. This investigation was conducted by someone called the Marshal of the Supreme Court. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person. But she has no law enforcement training or experience. She’s in charge of securing the building called the Supreme Court building and its justices. That’s what she does.”

He also criticized who he says was not investigated: former clerks and current justices.

“If you want to do a real, serious leak investigation, you’re going to talk literally to every person who may have had access to whatever it is that leaked. From what we can see so far, while they may have talked one hundred people, they didn’t talk to ex-clerks. They didn’t talk to the very universe of people who may have done the leaking and then left the court,” he noticed.

“They didn’t call the FBI, because you know what would happen, then a real case would have happened. They wouldn’t have actually had the criminal process.”

“Someone stole government property, someone mishandled government records, potentially a crime. They could have had subpoenas of former clerks and former employees they would have had that leverage over them. They could have subpoenaed phone carriers and internet providers, and they could have see who was talking to whom and when, at the media platform that obtained this information,” he said, presumably referring to Politico which obtained and published the leaked draft opinion. “All of that could have been done.”

“We still have, according to The New York Times reporting today, we have no evidence that the justices themselves were interviewed.”

There was “no serious intent to get to get to the bottom of it, in my opinion,” Figliuzzi added.

Wallace at that point specified she was calling it “a sham investigation,” and then asked, “Why would a sham investigation be ordered? If Justice Alito felt that his quote assassination was possible because of the leak?”

Former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Peter Strzok, also points to the fact, based on the report from the Marshal of the Supreme Court, that the Justices and their spouses were not investigated, and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s claim affirming the quality of the investigation.

“Kind of blows a huge hole in Chertoff’s statement that he ‘[could] not identify any additional useful investigative measures,'” Strzok wrote.

Former RNC chairman Michael Steele went even further, while agreeing with Figliuzzi’s take that the Court knows who the leaker is.

“I don’t think they want to know,” he alleged, also on MSNBC’s Deadline: White House.

“I don’t think they want to know because I think they already know. I think they already know enough to know who, what, where, when and why, inside that building.”

Steele, a veteran of politics, declared, “the worst outcome here is not a judicial one. It is a political one. It is one that steeps this building, and its justices in a political vortex that they cannot escape from. Sitting at 26 percent approval among the American people because of the prior bad acts and opinions in how people are perceiving how this Court is operating.”

“You layer on top of this, someone within their own ranks, whether it was a staffer or a justice, God forbid – which I do not take off the table here – leaking this for nefarious political reasons, whether to create outcome ‘A’ or create outcome ‘B’ around this opinion, that does not create an avenue to further entrust or garner the trust of the American people.

Slate’s legal expert Dahlia Lithwick added to the conversation, “I think that the decision was taken to do this is in-house using the Marshal Service, but probably other choices could have been made, to have a different, perhaps more thorough investigation. But I think the takeaway is exactly what you just heard, that for a leak that was characterized by most of the justices as the single most shocking, egregious violation of norms like trust. It’s still being credited for destroying collegiality amongst the justices.”

“This was a nuclear bomb that went off into court. And now the answer seems to be, ‘so sad, too bad, I’m good,'” she observed. “It’s pretty amazing in light of how absolutely consequential this has been, not just for the justices amongst themselves, but for the sort of integrity and reputational interests of the court.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Are White Evangelicals Finally Ready To Dump Trump?

A “silent majority” that supported Donald Trump in his 2016 and 2020 presidential runs is now quietly bowing out, Vanity Fair reports.

The University of Chicago Divinity School’s magazine reported that nearly 81 percent of “self-identifying white evangelical voters” voted for Trump in 2016.

However, despite Trump keeping several promises to evangelical voters during his term — including nominating conservative judges to the Supreme Court and successfully overturning Roe v. Wade as a result — it may not be enough to win the voting bloc over again.

Bob Vander Plaats, a noted evangelical pastor said, “There’s a lot of people who share a lot of our similar thoughts but don’t want to go on record.”

Last month, Washington Times columnist Everett Piper penned an article in which she suggested that Trump is “hurting…not helping” evangelicals. She said, “the take-home of this past week is simple: Donald Trump has to go.”

“If he’s our nominee in 2024, we will get destroyed," Piper added.

Recently James Robison, a prominent televangelist, compared Trump to a “little elementary schoolchild.”

Although many evangelical leaders are not thrilled about another Trump run, some are indeed intrigued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' potential run, as he was recently a featured speaker at the conservative Faith & Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority conference and endorsed by evangelical pastor Tom Ascol.

Other GOP candidates Vander Plaats mentioned he's willing to support, if they run, include Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, Mike Pompeo, and Nikki Haley.

Even with drastically shifted views, and their newfound support of other possible candidates, Vanity Fair reports that it is still too early to confirm whether Trump has completely lost their support as some evangelical leaders continue to stand by him.

Texas pastor and former faith adviser to the Trump White House Robert Jeffress told Vanity Fair he was "one of the only and first megachurch pastors supporting President Trump during the primary." Jeffress said, "Most were divided among a plethora of other candidates. But as soon as they saw Trump beginning to gain momentum they coalesced around him, and I think the difference in 2024 is that people will coalesce around him much sooner than last time.”

On the contrary, said an evangelical leader who chose not to be named, he has “no doubt” that if Trump is the GOP 2024 candidates, the Republicans will “get crushed in the general [election].”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Can The Supreme Court's Ratings Sink Lower? They Just Did

The U.S. Supreme Court notched yet another all-time low in its approval rating, this time in a Quinnipiac University poll.

The survey found that a 54 percent majority of Americans disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job, while just 35% approve.

Registered voters expressed nearly the same level of discontent at 36 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval—the lowest job approval among registered voters in the survey since Quinnipiac began asking the question in 2004.

It's yet another new low for a court that has seen its reputation take an abrupt nosedive ever since it overturned a 50-year precedent on abortion rights this summer.

In June, Gallup found public confidence in the high court had sunk to just 25 percent, a historic all-time low since Gallup began tracking the measure in 1973. Confidence in the court stood at 45 percent in that May '73 survey, taken just months after the high court had established a constitutional right to abortion in its January ruling on Roe v. Wade.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Evangelical Pastor: 'Stealth Missionaries'  Corrupted The Supreme Courto (VIDEO)

The Rev. Rob Schenck was once deeply involved in the Christian right movement and white evangelical efforts to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the evangelical Protestant minister has grown increasingly critical of the Christian right and the anti-abortion movement that he was once a part of.

Moreover, he is speaking out against the Christian right’s campaign to lobby Supreme Court justices in the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Schenck alleges that evangelical Christian fundamentalists knew what the High Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby would be before that decision was publicly announced, and that the leak came from either Justice Samuel Alito or his wife — an allegation that Justice Alito has vehemently denied. And Schenck discussed that allegation when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, December 8.

The Independent’s Alex Woodward, reporting on Schenck’s testimony, explains, “An evangelical minister and former longtime anti-abortion activist told members of Congress that he helped recruit wealthy conservative donors to serve as ‘stealth missionaries’ at the U.S. Supreme Court, where they developed friendships with conservative justices that aligned with the group’s ‘social and religious’ views. The ‘overarching’ goal of Robert Schenck’s ‘Operation Higher Court’ sought to ‘gain insight into the conservative justices’ thinking and to shore up their resolve to render solid, unapologetic opinions,’ he told the House Judiciary Committee in sworn testimony on 8 December.”

Operation Higher Court was the lobbying campaign of Faith and Action, the Christian right group that Schenck was a part of for many years.

Woodward notes that Schenck “testified to the Committee that his group suggested tactics like meeting with justices for meals at their homes and at private clubs to build relationships and advance their perceived common objectives.”

Schenck told House Judiciary Committee members, “I believe we pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics and compromised the High Court’s promise to administer equal justice. I humbly apologize to all I failed in this regard. Most of all, I beg the pardon of the folks I enlisted to do work that was not always transparently honest.… I’m here today in the interest of truth telling.”

The December 8 hearing wasn’t strictly about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby or Operation Higher Court’s campaign to influence Supreme Court justices. It was about Supreme Court ethics in general, and Schenck now believes that it was unethical for Supreme Court justices to be interacting with Christian right lobbyists.

Watch the video of Schenck’s December 8 testimony below or at this link.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Treasury Delivers Trump Tax Returns To Congressional Committee

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has finally handed over six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, after the U.S, Supreme Court denied the ex-president’s request to block the document transfer. The powerful House Ways and Means Committee is now in receipt of all six years, according to a Wednesday afternoon report from CNN.

The returns are primarily from Trump’s time as president.

The committee will need to work quickly, as Republicans will take over the House majority early next year, and the current chairman, Richard Neal, will no longer serve in that role.

Republicans are expected to end any investigations into Donald Trump, including his tax returns, as they begin investigations into top GOP priorities: Hunter Biden’s laptop, the origin of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

'Denied': Supreme Court Rejects Trump Plea To Hide His Taxes

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon rejected a request from Donald Trump, asking that it block a lower court ruling ordering that six years of the former president’s tax returns be given to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Trump has been battling the committee over his tax returns for three years.

The order says Chief Justice John Roberts referred Trump’s request to the full Court. It does not say whether any justices agreed with Trump.

“The application for stay of the mandate presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is denied. The order heretofore entered by The Chief Justice is vacated,” the ruling reads.

But Democrats need to move quickly.

“The decision by the court in a brief order noting no dissenting votes means the committee can try to access the documents ahead of the Republican take-over of the House in January,” NBC News notes. “The committee, however, has not said how quickly it expects to get the documents. Upon taking control, Republicans are expected to withdraw the request.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Evangelical Leader Says Justice Alito Leaked Supreme Court Decision

Rev. Rob Schenck has written a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts informing him that Justice Samuel Alito leaked the outcome of a critical 2014 Supreme Court ruling that gifted corporations with religious rights and allowed them to deny health care to employees. The revelation of Alito’s leak in that case adds weight to the likelihood that he also leaked the draft text of the decision destroying the right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.

Schenck is an evangelical minister and author who was told in advance about the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby after a friend of his dined with Alito. According to the letter, after learning of the pending ruling, Schenk was able to use the information to prepare material and statements in advance for when that ruling was announced. He even contacted the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, before the ruling was released, to let them know how it was going to go.

Rev. Schenck wants Chief Justice Roberts to keep that in mind when searching for who leaked a draft version of Alito’s Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization of Jackson opinion.

Considering there may be a severe penalty to be paid by whoever is responsible for the initial leak of the recent draft opinion, I thought this previous incident might bear some consideration by you and others involved in the process.

The leak of the draft decision in Dobbs was more than just a breach of Supreme Court tradition and security. By putting out a version of the opinion that was incredibly harsh, and which went far beyond the limits of what many had expected in the ruling, that draft put a stake in the ground that may have forced even conservative members of the Court to move faster than they had wanted in completely demolishing Roe and the entire concept of privacy rights.

Many have suspected that this is exactly why the leak was made in the first place; not to warn people about what was coming, but to put conservative members of the Court into a position where they either signed on, or were marked out as traitors to the anti-abortion cause. In short, there was a lot more to gain for Alito to have leaked the decision he wrote, than for any of the more moderate members of the Court to have made the text available before the justices made their final decisions.

As The New York Times reports, both Dobbs and the Hobby Lobby case were “triumphs for conservatives and the religious right.” Not only did the Dobbs decision shatter a right that had been in place for 50 years, and repudiate the ruling of that past Court, but the Burwell case elevated the religious rights of corporations above those of employees. It continued the wall of protection that corporate owners enjoy, but allowed their religious preferences to leak through that wall so that they could refuse to include, not just abortions, but even contraceptives in their health care plans. It was one of a string of rulings that have made corporations into ungovernable super-citizens.

Alito reportedly leaked the ruling on the Hobby Lobby case to a small group of supporters and religious rights advocates. However, the leak of the Dobbs opinion was made to the public, dropping like a bombshell into national politics when it was published in full by Politico. In September, Joan McCarter reported that the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion was still being investigated, but Justice Neil Gorsuch revealed that the outcome of that investigation might “not be made public.” Which would seem to limit the possible consequences of the leak to something less than a slap on the wrist. That there has been no announcement of findings seven months after the opinion was released makes it seem more likely that no public report is forthcoming.

By releasing his information concerning Alito and making public his letter to Roberts, Schenck, who was not supportive of the outcome in Dobbs, would seem to have returned at least some pressure for Roberts to treat the leak with the serious attention it deserves.

This wasn’t just a betrayal of the Court’s security, it was a deliberate effort to manipulate the outcome of a decision still in progress. If Alito actually used this leak to strong-arm other justices into signing onto his extremist position … surely that’s something the public should know. And if the Court decides to hand down no punishment for this, that’s also something the public should know.

Another reminder of just how leaky the Roberts court has been.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.