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Tag: wilbur ross

Ross Raked In Over $53 Million As Trump's Commerce Secretary

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Commerce Secretary appointed by former President Donald Trump is said to have earned at least $53 million while collecting a taxpayer salary for a position that required him to work in the best interest of the public instead of focusing on his own profits.

According to HuffPost, Wilbur Ross' earnings were a focal point of a recent complaint filed by the watchdog organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). During his four years working under the Trump administration as the head of the U.S. Commerce Department, Ross reported making "somewhere between $53 million and $127 million."

CREW reports that the figures are based on three different yearly financial disclosures along with Ross' final termination report which the watchdog organization obtained from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

Ross' financial disclosure filings have triggered complaints about the conflict of interests between his position and profitable affiliations. The watchdog organization sounded off about Ross' entanglements with a number of private companies while holding public office. Since the federal government only requires outside income to be reported in "broad range," CREW also believes there is a high likelihood that Ross' profits were "significantly more" than reported.

"Wilbur Ross reported making a minimum of $53 to $127 million in outside income during his four years as secretary of commerce for Donald Trump," CREW said in its statement. "It is possible that he earned significantly more as he was not required to specify certain income totals over $1 million. Even in an administration characterized by corruption, Ross became notorious for mixing personal business with his government role."

The statement added, "It is impossible to know Ross's exact income because it was reported in broad ranges, but it is clear that while running the agency in charge of promoting economic growth and regulating global trade for the United States, he made tens of millions of dollars."

The latest complaint against Ross comes just months after the release of a report by the Commerce Department's Inspector General's Office. While Ross was cleared on speculation of insider trading, the report did indicate that he had "violated the federal standard of failing to avoid the appearance of ethical and legal breaches."

Trump's Commerce Chief Oversaw Security Unit That Spied On Census Critics

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

During Donald Trump's four years as president, his administration was a revolving door. But one person who was part of the Trump Administration throughout most of his presidency was former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who started in February 2017 and stayed until February 2021. The Department of Commerce, as journalist Shawn Boburg reports in an article published by the Washington Post on May 24, has had an "obscure security unit" that was "tasked with protecting" its "officials and facilities" — and during its Trump/Ross era, according to Boburg, it "evolved into something more akin to a counterintelligence operation that collected information on hundreds of people inside and outside the Department."

According to Boburg, "The Investigations and Threat Management Service (ITMS) covertly searched employees' offices at night, ran broad keyword searches of their e-mails trying to surface signs of foreign influence and scoured Americans' social media for critical comments about the (2020 U.S.) Census, according to documents and interviews with five former investigators. In one instance, the unit opened a case on a 68-year-old retiree in Florida who tweeted that the Census, which is run by the Commerce Department, would be manipulated 'to benefit the Trump Party,' records show."

Boburg adds, "In another example, the unit searched Commerce servers for particular Chinese words, documents show. The search resulted in the monitoring of many Asian-American employees over benign correspondence, according to two former investigators."

John Costello, who formerly served as deputy assistant secretary of intelligence and security for the Commerce Department under the Trump Administration, is highly critical of ITMS — telling the Post that ITMS "has been allowed to operate far outside the bounds of federal law enforcement norms and has created an environment of paranoia and retaliation at the Department."

Bruce Ridlen, a former supervisor, told the Post that the ITMS' tactics make it look as though "someone watched too many 'Mission Impossible' movies."

Ridlen, who left ITMS in October 2020, told the Post, "I chose to resign from my position with ITMS after it became clear there was no authority to perform law enforcement functions. There were no policies in place to outline standards of conduct or to establish parameters for investigative activities, which led to investigative inquiries of U.S. persons over protected free speech found on several social media platforms."

Former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was sworn in as commerce secretary under President Joe Biden in early March.

Boburg explains, "(ITMS) has managed to keep a low public profile until now, while pursuing investigations into 'counterintelligence, transnational crime and counterterrorism,' as it described its activities in a 2018 budget document submitted to Congress. Incoming Commerce leaders from the Biden Administration ordered ITMS to pause all criminal investigations on March 10, and on May 13, ordered the suspension of all activities after preliminary results of an ongoing review, according to a statement issued by Department spokeswoman Brittany Caplin. The suspension came two days after the Post presented its findings about the unit to the department and sought interviews."

The statement read, "The current Commerce Department leadership team takes this issue seriously. The Department expects that at the end of the review, it can and will implement a comprehensive solution to the issues raised."

Exposed Corruption Swamps Trump Campaign In Final Week

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It's been a long, difficult week in Trumpworld with all of the incriminating reports of corruption surrounding President Donald Trump and his administration. With Election Day less than five days away, Trump is likely feeling the pressure as the opposing forces work over time to state their case and prove that he is unfit for the office of the presidency.

Many of the stories raise more questions about Trump's leadership and the hidden agendas of his White House officials and other members of his administration.

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Team Trump’s Collected Remarks About The Pandemic

Donald Trump and his administration spent the first several weeks of the current coronavirus crisis downplaying the problem and claiming that it might actually be good for the economy, among other things.

Their rosy predictions, unfortunately, have fallen flat.

The nationwide death toll from the virus has now passed 1,000. The United States now has more known COVID-19 cases than any other country, and unemployment claims are at a record high.

Here are some claims that aged particularly poorly.

Everything is under control

Trump claimed on Feb. 25 that the coronavirus was “very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They’re all getting better.” As recently as March 15, he was still claiming that it was “something that we have tremendous control over.”

On Thursday, the CDC reported more than 68,000 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases.

Larry Kudlow, head of Trump’s economic council, made a similar claim on Feb. 25, saying, “We have contained this. I won’t say [it is] air-tight, but it’s pretty close to air-tight.” He vowed it would not be an “economic tragedy.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also insisted on March 7 that the virus was “contained.”

“It is being contained,” she told skeptical reporters. “Do you not think it’s being contained in this country?”

Trump made an even bolder claim on Feb. 26, suggesting that the then-limited number of cases would go away. “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said at a press briefing.

Asked whether schools might need to shut down, he added, “I don’t think it’s going to come to that, especially with the fact that we’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

Infections have since risen by more than 100,000 percent.

On March 9, Trump suggested that influenza was a bigger deal than the coronavirus. “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” he tweeted. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Testing is perfect

The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed back on reports of limited coronavirus testing, despite an abundance of complaints from states and localities that they have no way to administer tests to all those who need them.

On March 6, Trump claimed “anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is.” He added that the tests were “all perfect.”

On Tuesday, the New Yorker reported “widespread” coronavirus testing was still unavailable and would not be ready any time in the near future, due to a “critical shortage of the physical components needed to carry out tests of any variety.”

Mike Pence, whom Trump appointed to lead the coronavirus task force, claimed as recently as March 10 that “over a million tests have been distributed” thus far, promising that, “before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed.”

As of Thursday, the COVID Tracking Project, which gathers the most recent test information from across the country, said just 519,338 tests had been conducted in total. And Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing “czar,” admitted on Wednesday, “We’re not at the level of having tens of millions of people tested.”

This will actually be good for the economy

Trump claimed on March 6 that the lack of international fights due to coronavirus would be good for domestic tourism.

“You know, a lot of people are staying here and they’re going to be doing their business here, they’re going to be traveling here. And they’ll be going to resorts here. We have a great place,” he argued. “So foreign people come, but we’re going to have Americans staying home instead of going and spending their money in other countries and maybe that’s one of the reasons the job numbers are so good.”

The travel industry has since ground to a virtual halt as states implement widespread lockdowns and shelter-in-place restrictions.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross went so far as to predict that the outbreak would boost U.S. jobs. “The fact is it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain,” he told Fox Business on Jan. 30. “I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to the U.S., probably some to Mexico as well.”

According to Thursday’s weekly job numbers, 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

Back on Feb. 24, as the stock market started to tumble over coronavirus fears, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Kudlow echoed this on on Feb. 28, telling Fox Business that investors should not “rule out” optimism. “Stocks look pretty cheap to me,” he opined.

As of Friday morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 21,734, more than 4,000 points lower than when Kudlow first made his prediction.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Aides Worked With GOP Activist Who Sought To Rig Census

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has obtained evidence showing that the Trump administration worked hand-in-hand with a GOP activist to try to rig the 2020 census.

Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican activist who specialized in gerrymandering and redistricting. In 2015, he conducted a study that determined that having a citizenship question on the decennial census would disadvantage Democrats and be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

During litigation over the Trump administration’s attempts to justify adding the question to the 2020 census, allegations appeared that Hofeller’s study had been instrumental in the administration’s decision to push for the question. The Justice Department flatly denied this, saying that the study “played no role” in the matter.

Now, the House Oversight Committee says it has material showing that the Trump administration began strategizing about how to add a citizenship question almost immediately after Trump took office — and, in the summer of 2017, worked directly with Hofeller to do so.

Mark Neuman, who was a member of the Trump transition team and a former adviser on census issues, provided information about his contacts with Hofeller during the time the administration was discussing how it could get the citizenship question on the census.

In August 2017, Neuman, then an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, communicated directly with both Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, about how to best phrase the citizenship question. Neuman asked both men to review language in a letter Neuman was sending to request the addition of the question.

Neuman’s letter offered the unfounded rationale the DOJ would later use to justify the question — to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act — and he wanted to make sure Hofeller and Oldham thought the language was correct. Both Oldham and Hofeller agreed the language was fine.

At every turn, Hofeller sought to advantage Republicans by minimizing participation by voters of color and Democratic voters. He didn’t do this in the shadows. On the contrary, Hofeller was ubiquitous in his efforts to ensure Republican control at any cost. When he passed away in 2018, one obituary said he “may be more responsible for the Republican majority in Congress than any other single person in modern politics.”

Over the years, Republicans paid him millions of dollars for his services.

Hofeller helped draw a highly gerrymandered map in North Carolina. He was hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon to assess whether it would advantage Republicans to draw political maps based on a subset of the population — American citizens of voting age — rather than a state’s total population. He worked as the redistricting director for the Republican National Committee.

Trying to rig the census was just a logical progression for Hofeller. In the Trump administration, he found a willing ear for his efforts. And now the House Oversight committee has proof the administration formed a partnership with Hofeller as well.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross departs Trump Tower after a meeting with Donald Trump in New York, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Trump Administration Reopens Dangerous ‘Longline’ Fishing Off California

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

The Pacific leatherback sea turtle, at up to 2,200 pounds the largest turtle on earth, could disappear from our oceans, yet Trump regulators have OK’d a type of fishing that could wipe out the massive animals.

The Pacific leatherback sea turtle is one of eight turtle species the Fisheries Service has identified as most at risk of extinction. The number of West Pacific leatherback sea turtles declined about 6% a year from the 1980s through 2011.

An estimated 562 nesting female adults survive now. In 2040, that number is projected to drop to 260 adult females in 2040, so few that leatherbacks likely could not make a comeback.

Despite this, in April the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a two-year permit to allow two boats to fish for swordfish 50 to 200 miles off the coast of California and Oregon using fishing lines with hundreds of baited hooks. The lines, up to 62 miles long, also catch turtles, seals and birds. David Haworth, captain of the Pacific Horizon, and John Gibbs, captain of Southern Horizon, are named in the permit.

Sea turtles could go extinct if deadly longline fisheries are expanded,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The network, a California nonprofit, and the Center for Biological Diversity sued Commerce Secretary Wilbur Rossand the National Marine Fisheries Service in federal court trying to block the permit.

The Trump administration sees the issue through a very different lens, concerned not about the potential extinction of a species but about American trade in seafood.

“By value, nearly 90% of the seafood” Americans eat is imported and more than half of that is from aquaculture such as salmon raised in pens in the oceans, according to the Commerce Department. The United States imported $14 billion more seafood in 2016 than it exported.

Reducing our nation’s “seafood trade deficit” has been pushed hard by Timothy Gallaudet, a retired rear admiral who is Trump’s assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

The amount of swordfish caught off the West Coast has declined 96% since 1985, in large part because of the decrease in fishing with mile-long gillnets. They are called “walls of death” because the 100-foot-high webs trap fish by their gills.

In September, Jerry Brown, then the California governor, signed a law to ban gillnets to catch swordfish.

The miles-long baited hooks lines make for efficiency for fishing boat operators, but at a huge cost in deaths of sea life other than swordfish that get caught on the hooks.

Duke professor Martin D. Smith, the president-elect of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, criticized the “naïve belief that the seafood trade deficit should be a national concern” that could harm our planet’s oceans.

In 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case from Hawaii that the fisheries service improperly minimized the risk of longline fishing to loggerhead sea turtles, another type of endangered turtle. In that case, the federal court in Hawaii ordered the fishery to close through Dec. 31, 2018.

The fisheries service asserted that there would be no significant impact on leatherback sea turtles from longline fishing. The fisheries service said longline practices have changed to reduce the number of sea turtles killed.

Longline fishing would not be allowed in 16,910 square miles of ocean off the California coast that is designated as leatherback critical habitat. Observers would be on the boats, and fishing would end if a leatherback turtle is killed under the permit issued by the Trump administration.

Congress Holds Wilbur Ross And William Barr In Criminal Contempt

On Wednesday, Wilbur Ross became the first commerce secretary in the history of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress. In a 230-198 vote, the House of Representatives voted to hold both Ross and Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt of Congress.

Barr is the second attorney general Congress has held in contempt. In 2012, the House voted to hold President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt in relation to the “Fast and Furious” scandal, even though Holder testified before Congress 11 times.

Hours before the contempt vote took place, Ross and Barr wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pleading with her not to hold the vote. Their request went unheeded.

The overwhelming majority of Democrats supported the resolution, while Republicans unanimously opposed it. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, an independent who recently left the Republican Party, voted in favor of the resolution, while only four Democrats voted against it.

The vote came after both Ross and Barr refused to cooperate with congressional investigations into the Trump administration’s attempt to rig the 2020 census with a racist citizenship question. Both men ignored subpoenas demanding documents to aid in the investigation.

Ross falsely claimed to Congress that the idea to add the question came from the Justice Department. Internal documents show it was the Commerce Department that asked the Justice Department to request a citizenship question. Adding the question, according to a Republican operative involved in the process, would undercount millions of black and Hispanic residents and would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

In the end, it was a racist ploy to advantage Republicans and unfairly harm Democrats.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration lied about why it wanted the question on the census in the first place, ultimately halting Trump’s efforts to add it.

The contempt vote allows Congress to sue Ross and Barr in federal court and have a judge enforce the subpoena. The vote also formally refers both men to the Justice Department for possible punishment, up to and including fines and jail time. Given Barr’s role as head of the Justice Department, it is highly unlikely the pair will face any repercussions.

Before the vote, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Oversight Committee, explained the reasons for moving forward with contempt, even though punishment is unlikely.

“Look, if you act with contempt for Congress and the American people, then you should be held in contempt of Congress and the American people, that’s pretty clear to me,” Raskin told NBC News. “We’ve never seen anything like this systemic defiance of the Congress by the president before.”

With the contempt vote behind it, Congress will likely file a lawsuit in federal court in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports. Many members of the Trump administration have been willing to defy Congress, but it remains unknown if they would also defy a court order directing them to comply with a congressional subpoena.

If the lawsuit against Ross and Burr is successful, America could soo find out.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Blame Wilbur Ross For Clumsy Lies That Made A Mess Of Census

If you want to understand why the Trump administration is scrambling at the last minute to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, you have to look beyond the lawsuits filed by Democrats anxious about the question’s political impact. The only reason that litigation produced a June 27 Supreme Court decision blocking the question was the blatant, bumbling mendacity of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose rationale for the change Chief Justice John Roberts and four of his colleagues deemed “contrived” and “pretextual.”

Whether that conclusion should make a legal difference is a matter of dispute; four justices thought it shouldn’t. But if Ross, whose department includes the Census Bureau, had told the truth — or even if he had been better at lying — census forms with the citizenship question would already be rolling off the presses.

The evidence that Ross’ official explanation — that the Justice Department needed better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act — was not the real reason for his decision persuaded three federal judges as well as a majority of the Supreme Court. It is not hard to see why.

“In the Secretary’s telling,” the court said, “Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency).”

That record shows Ross “began taking steps to reinstate a citizenship question about a week into his tenure, but it contains no hint that he was considering VRA enforcement in connection with that project.” After making the decision for reasons he has yet to reveal, Ross spent months trying to gin up a respectable excuse.

Under Ross’ instructions, his policy director “initially attempted to elicit requests for citizenship data from the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, neither of which is responsible for enforcing the VRA,” the court said. “After those attempts failed, he asked Commerce staff to look into whether the Secretary could reinstate the question without receiving a request from another agency.”

The VRA rationale originated not with the Justice Department, as Ross repeatedly claimed, but with Commerce Department staffers trying to satisfy their boss’s demands. The DOJ was unwilling to write this cover story until Ross persuaded the attorney general to intervene, and even then, “the record suggests that DOJ’s interest was directed more to helping the Commerce Department than to securing the data.”

The DOJ letter requesting a citizenship question was not written until nine months after Ross had made his decision, and it “drew heavily on contributions from Commerce staff and advisors.” Furthermore, “After sending the letter, DOJ declined the Census Bureau’s offer to discuss alternative ways to meet DOJ’s stated need for improved citizenship data,” reinforcing the impression that the VRA justification was phony.

Why does it matter? “In order to permit meaningful judicial review, an agency must ‘disclose the basis’ of its action,” the court said. “The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law … is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public.”

The court left open the possibility that the Commerce Department could try again, this time without lying. It noted that the commerce secretary has wide discretion to determine the contents of the census and that review of such decisions is “deferential.”

The Trump administration now faces two problems. First, while there are plenty of plausible nonpartisan reasons for asking about the legal status of U.S. residents in the census, coming up with one at this late date will smack of desperation.

Second, the administration has insisted all along that it needed to start printing forms by last week to keep the census on schedule, which is why its appeal in this case went straight to the Supreme Court. The administration has weaved a tangled web for itself that will be hard to escape.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be commerce secretary at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @JacobSullum. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.