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Tag: trump inaugural committee

Inspector General Urges Ethics Review Of Trump-Connected Official After Pro Publica Report

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

The inspector general for the Federal Election Commission is calling on the agency to review its ethics policies and internal controls after a ProPublica investigation last year revealed that a senior manager openly supported Donald Trump and maintained a close relationship with a Republican attorney who went on to serve as the 2016 Trump campaign's top lawyer.

The report by ProPublica raised questions about the impartiality of the FEC official, Debbie Chacona, a civil servant who oversees the unit responsible for keeping unlawful contributions out of U.S. political campaigns. The division's staffers are supposed to adhere to a strict ethics code and forgo any public partisan activities because such actions could imply preferential treatment for a candidate or party and jeopardize the commission's credibility.

In its findings, the inspector general said Chacona, head of the FEC's Reports Analysis Division, or RAD, did not improperly intervene in a review of the Trump inaugural committee's fundraising and acted “consistent with relevant law and policy" by allowing career analysts to handle the filings.

But the inspector general said “it is important to address the ethical principle that federal employees should avoid even the appearance of impropriety." It added that the FEC's “unique mission raises heightened concerns when allegations of personal or political bias are raised against FEC senior personnel that could undermine the public's confidence in the agency" and recommended the commission “evaluate the current agency policies on ethical behavior and update them, as may be appropriate."

Chacona displayed her support for Trump in Facebook posts, including one in which she posed with her family around a “Make America Great Again" sign at Trump's January 2017 inaugural. Separately, emails obtained by ProPublica showed that she also consulted regularly on matters personal and professional with the Republican lawyer, Donald McGahn, when he was an FEC commissioner from 2008 to September 2013.

After Trump's election, the fundraising practices of his inaugural committee prompted complaints that the FEC failed to properly examine contributions. As head of RAD, Chacona signed off on amended filings by the committee intended to address some of those complaints even though the revised reports continued to list problematic donations, including ones from donors whose addresses didn't exist in public records.

The 300-employee FEC is an independent regulatory agency that was created by Congress to enforce campaign finance law. It is headed by six presidentially appointed commissioners, four of whom must vote together for the agency to take any official action, a requirement that was meant to bolster nonpartisan compromise but has resulted in chronic gridlock.

The inspector general also took issue with the way the FEC regulates presidential inaugural committees, which are nonprofit entities separate from campaign committees. Trump's inaugural committee raised a record-breaking $107 million from more than 1,000 contributors. Its initial disclosure report was 510 pages.

The inspector general found that unlike with campaign committees, FEC policy confers “broad, subjective discretion to the RAD senior manager to determine what potential violations of law warrant further inquiry" when it comes to inaugural committees. It called such a standard “ill-defined and subjective," cautioning that it could create “a reasonable likelihood of inconsistent results and arbitrary or capricious application (in fact or appearance)."

The inspector general also said that unlike political committees, which file their reports to the FEC electronically, inaugural committee disclosure reports are filed on paper to the commission and then manually reviewed by agency staffers — a system the inspector general said was “antiquated and lacks adequate internal controls."

Asked what the agency has done to address the appearance of a conflict of interest at RAD and whether the agency planned on adopting any of the inspector general recommendations, an FEC spokesperson declined to comment.

McGahn, who was appointed White House counsel after serving as the Trump campaign's top lawyer, now heads the government regulations group at the law firm Jones Day. He did not respond to messages seeking comment; in a response for the earlier ProPublica story, he said he doesn't comment on “nonsense." Chacona did not respond to a message seeking comment. A spokesperson for Trump's inaugural committee didn't return a message seeking comment.

The inspector general said that it interviewed FEC lawyers and RAD staffers, and that it obtained and reviewed agency records to conduct its inquiry. Commissioners were notified of the investigators' findings at the end of July.

With its unprecedented haul and its questionable outlays, Trump's inaugural committee drew swift attention from journalists and regulators. The Washington, D.C., attorney general has sued the committee, accusing it of enriching the Trump family business by spending lavishly at Trump-owned properties, claims the committee has denied in court papers. Separately, federal prosecutors subpoenaed the committee's donor records as part of an inquiry into illegal contributions made by foreign nationals.

Both inaugural and political committees are prohibited from accepting contributions from foreign nationals. But Trump's inaugural committee included in its disclosure reports donations from contributors outside the U.S., and RAD relied on the word of the committee that the donors were indeed U.S. citizens, the inspector general report found. Investigators took issue with that practice. They noted that RAD's policy of accepting a committee's “self-certification" wasn't memorialized in any policy, and they recommended that the division set a threshold when such a contribution would trigger further inquiry to independently verify the source of the money.

Fred Wertheimer, whose advocacy group Democracy 21 helped file a 2017 FEC complaint against Trump's inaugural committee, which the agency's general counsel later dismissed, said the head of RAD should have recused herself from overseeing the committee's filings.

“In my view Ms. Chacona had a clear appearance of conflict and never should've gone anywhere near the inaugural committee's report," said Wertheimer, who was derided by Chacona and McGahn in the email exchanges obtained by ProPublica.

Did Don Jr. Lie To Prosecutors Under Oath? Watch The Videotape

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The news cycle during the last White House administration was a never-ending stream of corruption and nepotism. The Trumps (and Kushners) participated in such transparent acts of self-dealing and corruption that it became clear they believed their positions in government would immunize them from any prosecution of their actions. Added to this cocktail of criminality and power, is the fact that the Trump family is filled with starkly third-rate people, like Donald Trump Jr. It isn't hard to see how they have broken the laws, stolen Americans' money, and abused their positions in government.

In January of 2020, Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a civil complaint against the Trump Organization and the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Racine alleged that these two Trumpian groups acted a lot like money laundering operations. A year later, while the Trump and Republican machine tried to overthrow our democratically elected government, Racine was asking for depositions from both Ivanka and Junior. Reportedly, Racine was asking the conman's progeny about money purportedly spent by Trump's Inaugural Committee on the Trump Organization—the latter technically being the family business. Ivanka worked the Inaugural Committee while Junior worked the Trump Organization. At the time, Racine reportedly said Trump Jr.'s deposition "raised further questions," that his office would continue to pursue.

Mother Jones reports that some of the questions raised during Junior's deposition may revolve around him lying during his testimony.

Donald Trump Jr.'s deposition is filled with his inability to "recall" whether or not he was involved at all in the deals and moves being made to bring together Donald Trump's 2017 inauguration. One might say he pleads ignorance to most questions asked of him by attorneys. And even though the words "ignorance" and "Donald Trump Jr.," go together like peanut butter and chocolate, Junior possibly being a liar is more believable.

In documents and video obtained by Mother Jones, Donald Trump, Jr. seems to have lied or at the very least misled, prosecutors when he was asked about knowing close Melania Trump friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who raised concerns about price-gouging by the Trump organization, when the Trump hotel was charging the Inaugural Committee "twice the market rate for event space." According to Racine, the committee's deal with the hotel ended up being well above market rates.

During his deposition, Trump Jr. was asked about Winston Wolkoff: "Do you know her?" He replied, "I know of her. I think I've met her, but I don't know her. If she was in this room I'm not sure I would recognize her." He added, "I had no involvement with her."

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, you might remember, is the former senior adviser to Melania Trump. She's the lady who wrote the tell-all memoir about her time with the former first lady. Mother Jones has video from inauguration night of Junior telling a camera how great Winston Wolkoff is, and they also have text exchanges showing that Winston Wolkoff and Junior likely spoke on the phone a bit, and emails from Trump Jr. to Winston Wolkoff asking about helping out with inauguration festivities.

Winston Wolkoff didn't comment on Junior's testimony but she told Mother Jones: "I did not think it was right for the Trump Family or the Trump Family's businesses to be financially profiting from the presidential inauguration. It was a gross mismanagement of funds and an abuse of authority, and I made it very clear to people in the Trump Family and the inauguration committee how I felt."

The video where Trump Jr. is praising Winston Wolkoff also happens to be at an inauguration event that Junior also didn't recall attending. Video evidence says he definitely attended it. Most of Junior's testimony is evasive. Many of the questions directed at him were about private Trump organization events that seem likely to have been paid for, or in part funded by, the Trump Inauguration Committee—something that would be the definition of self-dealing. Prosecutors have receipts for all of these expenditures and whether or not it matters if Junior is lying or simply an ignoramus, will be a legal question decided by the courts.

To be clear, the Republican Party is fully complicit in self-dealing under the guise of self-promotion. And both the Trumps and the GOP use made-up cultural changes to try and obfuscate the real issues of their corruption and impotence as leaders. But lawyers don't care about your incitements to overthrow the government on Fox News when they are investigating whether or not you stole money.

Here's Trump Jr. talking about how great a person he told lawyers he didn't really know was, at an event he couldn't recall attending.


Watch Donald Trump, Jr. Praise Stephanie Winston Wolkoff www.youtube.com

Report: Former Adviser Taped Melania Trump Disparaging Ivanka

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Melania Trump made disparaging remarks about Ivanka Trump and President Donald Trump's other adult children, a former friend and senior advisor to the First Lady says.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who produced the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, says she taped Mrs. Trump making the remarks, and is including them in a new book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with The First Lady, to be released September 1. Journalist Yashar Ali, who writes for HuffPost and New York magazine, was the first to report the news.

Ali reports that "two sources familiar with the contents of her book confirmed that she reveals the details in her book, including harsh comments about Ivanka Trump."

"Wolkoff was friends with the First Lady for over a decade before Trump ran for president and was the director of special events at Vogue," Ali adds.

"How did Melania react to the Access Hollywood tape and her husband's affair with Stormy Daniels?" a description of the book asks. "Does she get along well with Ivanka? Why did she wear that jacket with 'I really don't care, do u?' printed on the back? Is Melania happy being First Lady? And what really happened with the inauguration's funding of $107 million? Wolkoff has some ideas…"

Court Filing Reveals Key Mueller Probe Witness Is ‘Still Cooperating’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Rick Gates, President Donald Trump’s former deputy campaign chair, is still cooperating with federal investigators after playing a key role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller managed to flip Gates, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI and conspiracy against the United States. He, in turn, testified against his longtime associate Paul Manafort, who was the chair of Trump’s campaign. Manafort eventually found guilty and then pleaded guilty for a slew of charges, including false statements, failing to register as a foreign agent, and various financial and tax crimes.

Gates also told Mueller about his and Manafort’s interactions with Russian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik, who Gates thought was a spy, during the 2016 campaign, but the special counsel was unable to get to the bottom of this bizarre connection.

But even after Manafort has been sentenced and the Mueller Report has been released, the government said Monday in a court filing that it would like to delay Gates’ sentencing further as his cooperation continues.

There are at least two ongoing Mueller-related cases in which Gates’s testimony might be relevant: the charges against Trump ally Roger Stone and the case against Greg Craig, the former White House counsel for President Barack Obama. Mueller also indicated in his report that there were a dozen additional cases on various matters that have been spun off from the Russia investigation to other offices in the Justice Department, and Gates’ testimony might be relevant in any number of them.

One particularly intriguing possibility is the ongoing investigation in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere of Trump’s inauguration, in particular the massive fundraising to support the gala. Gates was the deputy chairman of the inaugural committee, so if there was any criminal wrongdoing surrounding the event, he may have information about it.

 

 

Whatever Report Says, Looming Investigations Still Threaten Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and President Donald Trump’s potential involvement in it, has reached its conclusion. While there are a few loose ends to tie up, including the sentencing of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the trial of former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, Mueller is finished issuing indictments, and his report has been delivered to Attorney General William Barr, who will soon be briefing Congress on the key findings.

While no one yet knows exactly what the report contains, the mere fact that Trump was never indicted is being sung from on high by the president’s supporters as proof that he has been exonerated. But that isn’t the case  there was never that big a chance Trump himself was going to be slapped in cuffs and hauled before a judge, and the finer points of the investigation could be damning for him politically even if Mueller lacked the authority or standard of evidence to prosecute him.

But just as important: Trump’s problems do not end with Mueller’s investigation. There are a number of other legal dangers for the president, in the form of federal, state, and congressional investigations that have not yet concluded  many of which have potential to criminally implicate the president, financially harm him, or imperil his re-election prospects.

Here are the biggest ones:

  1. The Michael Cohen investigation

In some ways, prosecutors with the Southern District of New York were always a bigger threat to the president than Mueller. The special counsel was limited byecutorial actions, whereas the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office has no such constraints. subject matter, and had to request permission from the Justice Department to take certain pros

Federal prosecutors have been investigating Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s hush payments to women the president allegedly slept with ever since Mueller referred the matter to them over a year ago  which has led to Cohen pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and campaign finance violations. Cohen has asserted he committed these crimes at the president’s direction, and has suggested that Trump encouraged him to lie about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, an issue about which Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. If any of this can be proven by prosecutors, it could put the president in legal jeopardy.

  1. The inaugural committee investigation

Cohen is not all the Southern District is looking into. They are also leading a criminal investigation into the Trump inaugural committee, and last month subpoenaed documents concerning its finances. The probe is scrutinizing whether the committee accepted illegal donations, whether donors sought a quid pro quo in return for their contributions, and whether the committee was used to enrich the president’s personal businesses. The attorneys general for New Jersey and Washington, D.C. have also subpoenaed the committee.

This investigation could theoretically also implicate Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who according to a ProPublica investigation, approved contracts between the inaugural committee and the Trump organization that charged an exorbitant amount for food and event space  thus potentially funneling inaugural money into the family business.

  1. The Trump Victory Fund investigation

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is also investigating a $100,000 donation to the Trump Victory Fund came from Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman who is on the run in the wake of the 1MDB scandal, in which a state-run Malaysian investment fund was allegedly used to funnel money into the personal accounts of corrupt government officials.

The Trump Victory Fund is joint fundraising committee between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, and while a 2014 Supreme Court decisionempowered these types of committees to take unlimited donations,

  1. The New York Attorney General investigations

At the state level, New York Attorney General Letitia James is also waging a multi-pronged investigation into the president’s side ventures. A lawsuit brought by New York against Trump’s charitable foundation, which will dissolve as part of an agreement reached last year, accuses the foundation of violating state nonprofit laws, using charitable donations to enrich Trump, settle legal disputes, and influence the 2016 election.

The attorney general has also issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank, as part of a civil investigation into four projects by the Trump Organization and Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills football club in 2014.

  1. Congressional probes of Trump’s finances and business

While all of this is going on, House Democrats are gearing up to do what the president once promised he would do himself: release his tax returns. It is unclear what, exactly, is in Trump’s financial records, but whatever it is has made him desperate to keep them locked up. He is planning to do whatever he can to obstruct their release.

Additionally, Democrats plan a deep look into Trump’s business history, with an interview of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg already planned. In a recent hearing with Michael Cohen, Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) zeroed in on financial questions about Trump, like allegations that he inflated his assets to insurance companies, that merit further investigation.

The emoluments lawsuit
One of the longest-running legal questions about Trump’s presidency is the extent to which he is using it for personal profit, and particularly whether he has leveraged it to accept gifts from foreign governments, which would be a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which is the focus of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the Attorneys General of Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The essential problem for Trump is that he has hosted foreign diplomats at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, a hotel which charges far more than comparable hotels in the area. That raises two immediate legal questions: whether diplomats were essentially paying for access to the president, and whether the excessive price they were willing to pay for the rooms could be construed as a gift. If the answer to either of these is yes, the president could be in big trouble.

Trump would like the American people to believe that his legal problems end at “Russian collusion.” But it is clear that that is only where they begin.

New Subpoenas Issued To Trump Inaugural Committee Over Expenditures

While the nation was watching Michael Cohen detail the extent of Trump’s crimes, the District of Columbia attorney general was dropping subpoenas on President Trump’s inaugural committee. If that sounds familiar, it’s because D.C. is the third governmental body looking into the shady dealings that underpinned Trump’s inauguration.

First, it was federal prosecutors in Manhattan who decided to take a look at the committee. Better still, one of the reasons they began looking at the inauguration was because of Michael Cohen. When the FBI raided Cohen’s office, they found a recording of Cohen discussing the inaugural committee, which is part of what led to the criminal investigation.

Next, New Jersey stepped in, with the state attorney general’s office issuing a civil subpoena. New Jersey wants some of the same things the prosecutors in New York want, such as information about times where donors made payments directly to vendors. But this subpoena went further, asking for tax forms, contracts, ledgers, and any documents related to benefits that were provided to donors.  Unlike the New York investigation, which is a criminal matter, this is a civil one and could only lead to a civil lawsuit.

D.C is taking a different approach. There, the attorney general is looking into how much the inaugural committee paid to other Trump interests such as the Trump International Hotel or the Trump Organization. Given that news already broke late last year that the inaugural committee paid well above market rate for space at the Trump hotel, it’s about time this gets examined.

And Ivanka is directly implicated in that overpayment. Inaugural committee planners warned her that her father’s hotel was overcharging the committee and that this could be a problem when the committee was audited.

Gregg Jenkins, who planned George W. Bush’s second inauguration, said that Trump’s inauguration was planned by “a third of the staff” Jenkins used, raised “at least twice as much” as Jenkins did, and held only “a quarter of the events” Bush had.

All that excess cash had to go somewhere, and it’s looking a lot like it went to the Trump Organization in some way. With three sets of investigations into the matter, Trump and his family should be very worried.

Published with permission of The American Independent.