Hunter Biden

Busted Biden Informant -- And GOP Witness -- Had Contact With Top Kremlin Spies

The FBI informant who was indicted late last week for allegedly fabricating allegations about President Joe Biden and his son Hunter also reportedly had contact with officials in Vladimir Putin's regime, according to a new court filing.

Alexander Smirnov, 43, was charged last week with making false statements to federal authorities over his claim that both Joe and Hunter Biden solicited a $5 million bribe from Ukrainian company Burisma in exchange for protecting it from an investigation by the Ukrainian government. However, a new 28-page filing submitted in US District Court on Tuesday arguing for his continued pretrial detention suggests Smirnov may have had political motivations in concocting the alleged scheme.

"In December 2023 Smirnov reported to his handler about a recent overseas trip, where Smirnov attended a meeting with Russian Official 2, who Smirnov has described as a high-ranking member of a specific Russian intelligence service," read the filing, which was originally tweeted by Politico legal correspondent Kyle Cheney. "During this same trip, Smirnov apparently attended a separate meeting with Russian Official 1, the individual who controls groups that are engaged in overseas assassination efforts."

Revealingly, the filing said that Smirnov told his FBI handler that Russian intelligence officials obtained cell phone calls from "prominent US persons" that the Putin regime "may use as 'kompromat' in the 2024 election,' depending on who the candidates will be." The filing also read that Smirnov is "actively peddling new lies that could impact US elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November."

"Smirnov's contacts with Russian officials who are affiliated with Russian intelligence services are not benign," the DOJ argued in the filing. "The court should consider this conduct as well when evaluating his personal history and characteristics... In light of that fact there is a serious risk he will flee in order to avoid accountability for his actions."

Aside from his alleged fabrications about the Bidens, Smirnov has also been accused of lying about his finances. Even though he told the FBI he only had access to $1,500 in cash and another $5,000 in a savings account, the Tuesday filing read that he withdrew more than $1.7 million in cashier's checks between 2020 and 2022 in the name of "Avalon Group, Inc." It was not made clear from the filing where the money originated.

The lies Smirnov allegedly told make up the core of Republicans' arguments to impeach President Biden, with both House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer (R-KY) both citing his work with the FBI as justification for their impeachment crusade. They have not yet dropped their efforts to impeach Biden despite the president's calls for them to do so in light of Smirnov's indictment.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Arthur Engoron

If Judgments Force Sale Of Trump Properties, How Much Would He Get?

After Judge Arthur Engoron handed down a judgment against former President Donald Trump in excess of $350 million on Friday, the ex-president may end up having to liquidate some of his assets to satisfy the court's obligations.

Trump attorney Alina Habba has said that her client plans to appeal the ruling, though he'll still have to put the money in a court-managed account while the appeals process plays out, in addition to the state-mandated nine percent interest for appeals of civil judgments. Daily Beast reporter Jose Pagliery tweeted his back-of-the-napkin math estimating that in order to appeal Engoron's judgment, Trump would have to set aside roughly $450 million when accounting for interest.

But Engoron's penalty is merely the second judgment Trump has been hit with in 2024. Earlier this month, a jury ordered the former president to pay writer E. Jean Carroll $88.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages for defamation. That's on top of a separate $5 million judgment Trump was ordered to pay Carroll in 2023. With all of these court-ordered penalties lumped together, that means Trump will be on the hook for nearly $450 million. And even if his bid for the presidency is successful this November, he'll still be required to pay those penalties. He's also prevented from running any New York-based business for three years.

In order for Trump to pay those judgments, he may have to end up selling some of his flagship properties in his real estate portfolio. Exactly how much his properties are worth is still a matter of debate, as Judge Engoron found Trump liable for fraudulently inflating the values of his assets, giving New York Attorney General Letitia James nearly all she was asking for in disgorgement penalties. But both the attorney general's office and various reports have found rough estimates for some of his most valuable assets.

The crown jewels of the Trump Organization are his Manhattan skyscrapers: Trump Tower (valued at roughly $117 million according to Forbes), Trump Park Avenue (valued at $135.8 million in 2020) and 40 Wall Street (pegged at $220 million by a professional appraiser in 2012). While it's unlikely he would move to sell these buildings out of his nearly two dozen residential, commercial and resort properties, they could feasibly cover the judgments depending on how appraisers would view them in 2024.

The Independent delved into other appraisals for some of Trump's other pricey properties outside of New York City, including his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, which is valued at roughly $20 million. The New York Attorney General's office cited a figure of $56 million for his Seven Springs property in Westchester County, New York (just north of the city). In 2022, Trump sold the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC for roughly $375 million, which was enough to satisfy a $170 million loan from Deutsche Bank and pocket a hefty profit afterward.

Trump's legal woes in New York are far from over, however, with his first of four criminal trials scheduled for March 25 in Manhattan District Court. He faces 34 felony counts of allegedly falsifying business records related to a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stephanie Clifford in 2016.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Why Trump's Mounting Legal Bills Are Bankrupting His 2024 Campaign

Why Trump's Mounting Legal Bills Are Bankrupting His 2024 Campaign

Former President Donald Trump has already spent more than $50 million in donor contributions on his own legal bills in 2023. Now, his four upcoming criminal trials are threatening to empty out his PAC accounts with still nine months to go before election day.

In a Wednesday article, Bloomberg reported on the ex-president's financial conundrum as the meat of the election season looms in the coming months. The super PAC he's been using to pay his lawyers — MAGA, Inc. — has less than $27 million left, with Trump still having to pay for legal representation for criminal trials in Manhattan, US District Courts in Florida and Washington, DC and in Fulton County, Georgia all while still running a nationwide presidential campaign.

This means that Trump is running out of options to raise the money needed to accomplish both tasks of having legal representation in multiple jurisdictions and running a competitive campaign. He can tap into his existing pool of small donors, or he can raid the Republican National Committee's coffers. However, pursuing either of those avenues will make it even harder for Republicans to catch up to Democrats in the money race in competitive House and Senate races.

"Our mission is straightforward – maximize the Republican Party’s resources to get President Trump elected," Trump senior advisor Chris LaCivita stated.

Trump has so far been able to pay his legal bills using a complex scheme involving transfers and refunds between both MAGA Inc. and Save America, which is another Trump-allied super PAC. MAGA Inc. has reportedly spent 71 cents of every dollar raised in 2023 to pay the former president's legal team.

According to Bloomberg, Save America has, to date, paid out nearly $10 million for Trump's legal expenses under an agreement in which 10% of online contributions will pay for the former president's attorneys. But his campaign and other pro-Trump groups have already spent roughly $14 million more than they've raised, with no sign of those costs slowing down. Trump's super PACs — which can raise unlimited sums of money — are likely to rely more heavily on high-dollar donors like Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus and oil baron Timothy Dunn, who is CEO of Crownquest Operating, LLC.

The former president may also not be able to rely on his own wealth to pay for his lawyers or fund an expensive campaign given the legal judgments he's already facing. A New York jury recently found him liable for defamation, ordering him to pay writer E. Jean Carroll $88.3 million. Judge Arthur Engoron is also expected to hand down his verdict as soon as this week in the civil fraud trial he's been overseeing since last fall. Trump may be ordered to pay as much as $370 million in damages for false financial statements the Trump Organization submitted to state authorities.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: On Feburary 16, Judge Engoron ordered Trump to pay $364 million in civil penalties, plus interest; fined his sons Donald Jr. and Eric Trump $2 million each, and canceled the Trump Organization's New York business certificates for three years.}

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Trump's 'Absolutely Disgraceful' Slur On Haley's Husband Enrages GOP General

Trump's 'Absolutely Disgraceful' Slur On Haley's Husband Enrages GOP General

Retired brigadier general Don Bolduc, who was the Republican nominee for the 2022 US Senate race in New Hampshire, is blasting former President Donald Trump for his attacks on the military.

During a campaign event for former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Bolduc assailed Trump for his repeated jabs at Haley's husband, Michael. who is currently deployed in the Horn of Africa with the South Carolina National Guard. The former president mocked Michael Haley for being "away" and "gone" and questioning his whereabouts during a rally last weekend, suggesting that "he knew" something without elaborating.

"The comments that President Trump made about Michael's service, knowing full well where Michael was, and trying to attribute that to some other characterization, is absolutely disgraceful," Bolduc said. "But we also know that's not the first time Donald Trump has done this."

As Bolduc noted, Trump has taken numerous shots at members of the military throughout his political career. In 2018, the Atlantic reported on how, as president, Trump complained about having to stand in the rain at a ceremony honoring fallen service members in France, saying US soldiers who died in war were "losers" and "suckers." He also reportedly complained that the rain would ruin his hair.

Trump also insulted the Gold Star family of a dead Muslim service member, suggesting that the father was the only one spoke during an address at the Democratic National Convention because the soldier's mother was supposedly not allowed (the father stated that she was simply too aggrieved to speak about her son's death).

And as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) — who is a West Point graduate — noted, Trump has also attacked decorated veterans like the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was a four-star general before being appointed to oversee the Pentagon.

"Trump’s toxic brand of so-called leadership has done serious, lasting damage to the U.S. military. He has broken faith with our troops and sought to misuse the military for his own partisan agenda. He has taken money away from needed military projects and diverted it to his ineffective border wall. He seems intent on making it difficult for members of the U.S. military who are stationed overseas to exercise their right to vote," Reed stated on his website. “It will take years to repair the damage President Trump has inflicted on the United States military.

Watch the video of Bolduc's remarks below, or by clicking this link.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Matt Gaetz

House Ethics Probe Unearths Gaetz Texts To Paid Escort

The ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) has resulted in several suggestive text messages coming to light.

ABC News reports Gaetz sent the messages in 2017, when he was serving his first term in Congress. Gaetz texted the woman – who was over 21 years old at the time — inviting her on a trip with several others. The woman, who remains unnamed, was being paid by Gaetz's longtime associate Joel Greenberg to have sex with the Florida Republican and several other men. Greenberg is now cooperating with investigators.

"Hey — any interest in flying on a private plane to the keys May 19-21?" Gaetz reportedly wrote in one message. "2 guys, 4 girls. A very high-quality adventurous group."

"Sure, Im in," the woman replied, prompting Gaetz to allegedly respond, "Fantastic. As is true with all time you spend w me, it'll be fun and chill […] You have a passport?"

The woman reportedly decided to not accompany Gaetz and his entourage on the flight. It's not clear if Gaetz knew Greenberg was paying the woman to have sex with him.

Gaetz has been scrutinized more closely despite the Department of Justice ultimately deciding to not file charges in a sex trafficking investigation last year. That investigation focused on whether the congressman was involved in a trafficking scheme that involved a 17-year-old girl who was reportedly being paid for sex via Venmo. Greenberg pleaded guilty to six charges — which including sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to bribe a public official — and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2021. As part of his plea agreement, Greenberg agreed to cooperate with investigators.

"Rep. Gaetz has no knowledge of these activities by Mr. Greenberg and was not involved in them," a spokesperson for the congressman told ABC on Wednesday. "Rep. Gaetz has never paid for sex. Rep. Gaetz does not know anything about the woman you're referencing, though he takes thousands of selfies each year."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Retired Three-Star General Ben Hodges Slams Trump As 'Mafia Type'

Retired Three-Star General Ben Hodges Slams Trump As 'Mafia Type'

Former President Donald Trump's recent comments suggesting he would compromise the US' agreement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has alarmed and angered national security experts, including retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges.

During an interview with British newspaperThe Times, Hodges called out Trump for signaling that he would violate Article 5 of NATO, which pertains to the collective agreement between NATO countries that they will rally to the defense of any ally who is attacked by Russia. In a recent speech, Trump spoke about a conversation with "one of the presidents of a big country" who "stood up and said, 'Well, sir, if we don't pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?' Trump then said he "would not protect" that country if it wasn't contributing enough funding to NATO, and "would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."

"You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills," Trump said.

"Trump hates alliances. He hates an obligation where he'd have to live up to something," Hodges said. "Mafia type that he is, he doesn't want anybody restricting his options. He couldn't care less about moral obligations. He's willing to chuck the whole thing away."

Hodges warned that if Trump was elected to a second term in November, America's European allies would have every reason to worry about the former president not honoring his predecessors' commitments to preserving the NATO alliance.

"We would be foolish not to take at face value exactly what [Trump] says," Hodges said. "In his last term, he did have people around him who were able to moderate certain things, at least for a period of time. He won't make that same mistake again."

The NATO alliance has become particularly important as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his incursion into Ukraine's Donbas region and maintains his occupation of the Crimean Peninsula. NATO added Finland to its alliance last year, and Sweden is on the verge of joining the alliance as well. Putin argued that NATO's expansion into eastern Europe constituted encroachment by the West necessitated his attack on Ukraine in 2022. However, Ukraine has countered that Putin's aggression since its 2014 annexation of Crimea — which led to its expulsion from the G8 — will only worsen, adding that they want to regain control of both the peninsula and the disputed Donbas territory.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Swing District Republicans Are Trying To Steer Clear Of Trump

Swing District Republicans Are Trying To Steer Clear Of Trump

House Republicans in swing districts are already sensitive about being associated with former President Donald Trump, and many are hoping to avoid having to mention him altogether, as Democratic strategists are aiming to do ahead of the November election.

According to Politico, Democrats hoping to retake the majority in the House of Representatives are tying freshman Republican lawmakers running for reelection in competitive districts to Trump. This has resulted in some GOP representatives distancing themselves from the former president.

"I’m just not getting into it anytime soon," said Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY), who narrowly won his 2022 election with 49.9% of the vote after new district lines were drawn. Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-NY) has also not yet backed Trump, and would only commit to backing the Republican Party's eventual nominee when pressed.

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who likewise eked out a close win in a newly redrawn district, has gone further in his efforts to extricate himself from Trump. In November, Lawler told constituents that he "personally would like to see Nikki Haley as our nominee," calling her "clear-eyed" and "articulate."

Republicans arguably only won the majority in the House of Representatives with the help of New York Republicans like D'Esposito, Molinaro and Lawler. And since disgraced former Rep. George Santos (R-NY) was expelled last year for ethics violations, his district has been rated a "toss-up" by Cook Political Report. If Democrats flip control of those seats, it would put them back in charge of the House next year, given Republicans' current narrow majority.

In December, New York's highest court threw out the congressional maps that resulted in Republicans like Lawler and Molinaro winning narrow victories. Now, the Democratic-controlled legislature will redraw district lines to be used in 2024, making it likelier that the new maps will be favorable to Democratic candidates. Democrats hope that by tying Republicans to Trump, GOP lawmakers in New York and elsewhere will be less appealing to independent and moderate voters.

"These candidates across the country are going to have to answer for every insane thing Trump says," Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC spokesman CJ Warnke told Politico.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

GOP Resolution Would Shut Down Primary Contest To Anoint Trump As Nominee

GOP Resolution Would Shut Down Primary Contest To Anoint Trump As Nominee

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is now considering a draft resolution that would bring about a swift end to the 2024 Republican primary and cement former President Donald Trump's status as the de facto nominee.

According to a Thursday report in The Dispatch, the RNC resolution — proposed by Trump ally and Maryland RNC committeeman David Bossie — would be considered as soon as next week at the RNC's winter meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"RESOLVED that the Republican National Committee hereby declares President Trump as our presumptive 2024 nominee for the office of President of the United States and from this moment forward moves into full general election mode welcoming supporters of all candidates as valued members of Team Trump 2024," the resolution reads.

Under current RNC rules, Trump would have to win 1,215 pledged delegates from the various primaries and caucuses holding their contests this winter and spring in order to become the presumptive nominee ahead of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this coming July. Currently, Trump leads in the delegate race with 32 pledged delegates to former UN ambassador Nikki Haley's 17.

However, the RNC is within its rights to change those rules. Should it do so, it would effectively nullify the results of all upcoming primaries and caucuses after just two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Haley's team pushed back against the resolution, and fired a shot across the bow at RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

"Who cares what the RNC says?" Haley spokeswoman Olivia Perez Cubas told The Dispatch. "We’ll let millions of Republican voters across the country decide who should be our party’s nominee, not a bunch of Washington insiders. If Ronna McDaniel wants to be helpful she can organize a debate in South Carolina, unless she’s also worried that Trump can’t handle being on the stage for 90 minutes with Nikki Haley."

The next primary will be in Haley's home state of South Carolina in late February, which will also kick off the winner-take-all stage of the Republican primary, in which the candidate who wins a majority of votes will be awarded 100 percent of that state or territory's delegates.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Investor With Putin Ties Loaned $8 Million To Trump Entity Involved In Alleged Insider Trading

Investor With Putin Ties Loaned $8 Million To Trump Entity Involved In Alleged Insider Trading

A Russian businessman based in South Florida may have made millions off of insider trading in a scheme involving the parent company of former President Donald Trump's Truth Social platform.

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that investor Anton Postolnikov — the nephew of a former staffer to Russian President Vladimir Putin — is mentioned in court documents from a 2023 New York securities fraud case prosecutors brought against three men from South Florida. Gerald and Michael Shvartsman, along with accomplice Bruce Garelick, allegedly pocketed $23 million from insider trading involving a 2021 merger between Trump Media and Technology Group and the Miami, Florida-based Digital World Acquisition Corp.

Garelick and the Shvartsman brothers are accused of sharing non-public information with friends and colleagues in order to maximize their gains from the deal. Documents show Postolnikov loaned $8 million to Trump's company through a Caribbean bank he owns that frequently works with the pornography industry.

While neither Trump nor Postolnikov are facing any allegations of wrongdoing from the deal, the Herald reported that prosecutors could tack on more charges in a subsequent indictment. However, it remains unclear if Postolnikov will be added as an additional defendant. A separate filing by Tai Park — the defense attorney representing Michael Shvartsman — suggests that his client could face new charges of money laundering in response to his efforts to conceal his alleged insider trading profits.

Meanwhile, Garelick, who sat on the board of Digital World Acquisition Corp, is accused of making $50,000 from the merger in his work for Shvartsman's company, Rocket One Capital. Digital World is a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, which is often used as a vehicle for entities seeking to become publicly traded companies, as it involves less regulatory oversight than a traditional initial public offering (IPO). The Herald reported that months before the merger was announced, Garelick wrote a message to Postolnikov that read "Anton, Good times last night! Following up on that Trump Media Group SPAC we mentioned. The deal is going to finalize this week. Please let us know if you are interested in investing."

The murky details of the merger may be partially why the deal has yet to be approved by the US Securities and Exchange Commission after being on hold for more than two years. As a result of that delay, Trump Media and Technology Group has bled approximately $1 billion in investment commitments as of fall 2023. in the first three quarters of 2023, the company only posted $3.4 million in total revenue, which is far behind competing social media companies like Facebook and X/Twitter.

University of Florida business professor Jay Ritter — an expert on publicly traded companies — told the Herald that the fact that the merger is still on hold is "pretty unprecedented." He also likened the SPAC's performance to a "meme stock," in which social media sentiment drives a stock's performance more than other traditional business metrics.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Nikki Haley

On Campaign Trail, Haley Targets Trump's 'Mental Fitness' And Putin 'Bromance'

While on the campaign stump in New Hampshire, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley suggested that former President Donald Trump was so friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin that she felt it necessary to take the matter directly to her former boss.

Mike Warren of The Dispatch tweeted about Haley's remarks on Trump's "bromance" with Putin while covering her campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire on Saturday. The former South Carolina governor also addressed Trump's widely ridiculed remarks during a Friday night rally, in which he mistakenly referred to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as "Nikki Haley," saying his rival's name four times.

"[W]hen you're dealing with the pressures of the presidency, we can't have someone else that we question whether they're mentally fit to do this," Haley said.

During her time at the United Nations, Haley was a frequent and outspoken critic of Putin. In 2018, shortly before resigning from her post, Haley criticized Putin's attack on Ukrainian ships, saying his "outlaw actions" should be condemned by the international community.

"What we witnessed this weekend is yet another reckless Russian escalation," Haley said at the time. "The United States continues to stand with the people of Ukraine against this Russian aggression."

Just a few months prior, then-President Trump famously defended Putin during a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, following the US intelligence community's conclusion that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump get elected. Even Republicans panned Trump's defense of Putin, with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) saying there was "no question" the Putin administration interfered in the election. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called Trump's remarks "disgraceful," adding "no prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Haley is attempting to shore up support among New Hampshirites ahead of the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday. Polls show her trailing Trump by roughly 13 percentage points.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Three More Washington Lawyers  Face Disbarment Over Trump Coup Plot

Three More Washington Lawyers Face Disbarment Over Trump Coup Plot

Three attorneys who participated in former President Donald Trump's plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election are now facing disciplinary charges by the Washington, DC bar that could result in them permanently losing their ability to practice law in the nation's capital.

According to a Friday report in Politico, lawyers Julia Haller, Brandon Johnson, and Lawrence Joseph are all now accused of making statements to the court that they knew to be false in filing election challenges on Trump's behalf, and could ultimately be disbarred over their actions. Haller and Johnson worked alongside fellow Trump lawyer Sidney Powell (one of the former president's co-defendants in the Fulton County RICO trial who has since pleaded guilty) on her post-election lawsuits in swing states that then-candidate Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Joseph is being investigated for a suit he helped Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) file against then-Vice President Mike Pence for pressuring him to declare Trump the winner of the 2020 election while presiding over the US Senate's certification of Electoral College votes. That suit was ultimately thrown out by an appeals court panel after being denied by a federal district judge.

Politico additionally reported that following her work with Sidney Powell, Haller went on to defend several participants in the January 6 insurrection, including Kelly Meggs — a member of the far-right Oath Keepers militia in Florida who was eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison for seditious conspiracy. Haller now works at America First Legal, which is led by former Trump adviser (and outed white nationalist) Stephen Miller.

Haller, Johnson and Joseph are merely the latest Trump-affiliated attorneys at risk of losing their law licenses. Former Trump attorney John Eastman – who authored the infamous "Eastman Memo" that laid out the strategy for Pence to hand the election to Trump — just completed a lengthy disciplinary hearing in California, where a final decision is expected by late February.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani had his law license stripped as a result of his efforts to subvert the election. And former assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark is in the midst of his own disbarment proceedings, where Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege and trigger what could be months of litigation. Both Giuliani and Clark are also defending themselves against felony charges in Fulton County.

A DC bar committee will conduct an initial hearing into the charges against Haller, Johnson, and Joseph, and could recommend a range of penalties, including suspension and disbarment.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Joe Biden

Biden Seeks To Curb Big Bank 'Harvesting' Of Overdraft Fees

In 2022 alone, banks made nearly $8 billion off of charging overdraft fees to low-income Americans whose accounts went below zero — sometimes charging broke customers as much as $37 per overdraft. Now, a new proposed rule by President Joe Biden's administration would limit those fees to as little as $3.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced the new proposed rule on Wednesday, which would limit overdraft fees to as little as $3 per transaction. The CFPB says the rule — which affects banks with more than $10 billion in assets — would save approximately 23 million American households a total of $3.5 billion per year. Essentially, the rule would close a loophole banks exploited that exempted overdraft lending services from the Truth in Lending Act and other similar legislation aimed at protecting bank customers.

"Decades ago, overdraft loans got special treatment to make it easier for banks to cover paper checks that were often sent through the mail," CFPB Director Rohit Chopra stated. "Today, we are proposing rules to close a longstanding loophole that allowed many large banks to transform overdraft into a massive junk fee harvesting machine."

The Truth in Lending Act, which was passed in 1968, required financial institutions to disclose the full costs of providing loans to customers. At that time, many families sent checks in the mail, and were unsure of when funds would actually be withdrawn and when a cleared check would post to the account holder's balance. This occasionally resulted in an account being overdrawn, after which the bank would issue a loan to cover the difference.

In 1969, when the Federal Reserve Board of Governors was establishing guidelines for the Act's implementation, they allowed an exception in the rules for banks if a depositor "inadvertently" overdrew their account. In the 1980s and 1990s, when debit cards began replacing checks as the primary form of conducting transactions, banks started charging sky-high fees to capitalize on overdraft loans, raking in billions in extra profit. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are two of the biggest offenders — according to the CFPB, those two banks raked in roughly a third of overdraft fees reported by banks over $1 billion.

"Many banks and credit unions already provide lines of credit tied to a checking account or debit card when the consumer overdraws," the CFPB stated on its website. "The proposal provides clear rules of the road to ensure consistency and clarity."

A post to the CFPB's website established several proposed overdraft fee limits of $3, $6, $7 or $14 solely to help banks recoup costs of issuing overdraft loans rather than as a profit driver, and is soliciting public comment on the appropriate amount.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

E. Jean Carroll Judge Instructs Jurors To Conceal Identity -- Even From Family

E. Jean Carroll Judge Instructs Jurors To Conceal Identity -- Even From Family

With writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation trial against former President Donald Trump now underway, US District Judge Lewis F. Kaplan is taking the security of jurors seriously.

Politico legal reporter Erica Orden tweeted Tuesday that Kaplan instructed his jury that it was to be an "anonymous jury," meaning no one — meaning other jurors, reporters, attorneys and even Judge Kaplan — would know their names. He also suggested members of the jury that they refer to each other using assumed names, and laid out highly detailed instructions for their safe transportation to and from the courtroom each day.

"The jurors will be transported to court each day by gathering at certain meeting spots, from where they will be driven to court and brought in via underground garage, Kaplan says. He also instructed jurors not tell anyone, including family, that they are serving on this case," Orden wrote.

Kaplan's insistence on anonymity and security for jurors may be out of an abundance of caution given the former president's behavior in his New York civil fraud trial. Trump repeatedly attacked Allison Greenfield — a law clerk for Judge Arthur Engoron – and at one point published a link to her personal Instagram account, which led to both Greenfield and Engoron getting "inundated" with death threats from Trump supporters.

The deluge of threats resulted in Engoron imposing a gag order on the ex-president aimed at preventing him from attacking court staff, though Engoron exempted himself and New York Attorney General Letitia James from that gag order.

This week's defamation trial will only be to determine how much Trump will be on the hook to pay Carroll, who is asking for $10 million in damages. During the jury selection process, Kaplan asked prospective jurors whether they understood that Trump was already ruled to have been liable for both sexual abuse and defamation with actual malice, and all agreed.

Orden tweeted that several potential jury members were eventually excused after saying they agreed with Trump's baseless assertions that the 2020 election was unfairly stolen from him, and that he had been treated "unfairly" in previous court proceedings.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

E. Jean Carroll

Facing 'Untenable Scenario,' Three Trump Lawyers Abandon His Defense

Former President Donald Trump's rout of his GOP rivals in the Iowa Caucus appears to not have worked to soothe the moods of three of his top lawyers who, until this week, were defending him in two separate high-profile trials.

The New Republic reports Trump attorneys Joe Tacopina, Chad D. Siegel, and Matthew G. DeOreo, of the law firm Tacopina, Siegel and DeOreo, all filed a motion to withdraw as counsel in two of the former president's upcoming cases. The three lawyers had been representing Trump in his currently ongoing defamation trial in which plaintiff E. Jean Carroll is suing for $10 million in damages, and in Trump's upcoming March trial in Manhattan District Court over alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Former federal prosecutor Michael McAuliffe told Newsweek that while there are "a number of reasons" why an attorney might want to stop representing a client, Tacopina, Siegel, and DeOreo may have dropped the ex-president out of frustration that their client wasn't properly following their advice.

"The attorney-client relationship might have suffered a fundamental breach of confidence, running in either or both directions," McAuliffe said. "A strong-willed client who thinks he or she is more of a lawyer than the actual lawyer can create an untenable scenario for that lawyer to continue representing the client’s interests."

In a statement to the New York Times, Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung didn't acknowledge the attorneys' withdrawal motion, but said the former president "has the most experienced, qualified, disciplined, and overall strongest legal team ever assembled."

The E. Jean Carroll defamation trial began with a rocky start for Trump, whose Truth Social account posted more than 30 attacks in less than two hours on the writer whom a jury found last year was sexually abused by Trump. This week's proceedings are simply to determine how much Trump will be ordered to pay, as prior court rulings found him liable for both sexual abuse and defamation.

Trump is scheduled to stand trial in Manhattan on March 25, where District Attorney Alvin Bragg has accused Trump of falsifying business records in relation to alleged payoffs involving Daniels' allegations of an affair prior to the 2016 presidential election. A guilty verdict on all counts could theoretically result in more than 600 years in prison. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Big Firms Including Amazon And Boeing Gave $100M To Election Deniers

In the wake of the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in which a mob of far-right rioters attempted to violently disrupt Congress' certification of the 2020 Electoral College count, numerous corporations vowed publicly to stop donating to Republicans who supported the rioters' cause.

However, a new report from nonpartisan campaign finance research group Open Secrets shows that corporations have been flooding the campaign war chests of Republican election deniers in Congress, with more than $108 million donated since the insurrection.

"Companies pledged to pull back, but we have not seen that play out," Open Secrets investigations manager Anna Massoglia recently told the New York Times.

To come to that amount, Open Secrets tracked donations to the campaigns of the 147 House and Senate Republicans (also known as the "Sedition Caucus") who voted to overturn the 2020 election the same day supporters of former President Donald Trump ransacked the US Capitol, killing five police officers and injuring hundreds more in the process. Researchers then zeroed in on donations that came from approximately 1,400 business political action committees and trade associations.

According to Open Secrets, PACs and trade groups donated roughly $91.4 million to the Sedition Caucus in the three years since the insurrection, and funded leadership PACs affiliated with Sedition Caucus members to the tune of $16.7 million more. Some of the biggest donors include the National Association of Realtors — a trade group for the real estate industry — the American Bankers Association and United Parcel Service. Other major corporate donors to election deniers include military contractors like Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and General Atomics.

Notably, many of these donations came from the very same companies that pledged to stop supporting the Sedition Caucus. As journalist Judd Legum reported in his newsletter Popular Information, household name brands like Airbnb, Amazon, AT&T, Boeing and Pfizer publicly vowed to cut off donations to election deniers in 2021. However, Open Secrets found that all of those companies quietly resumed donations, in addition to other companies that pledged to stop supporting 2020 election conspiracy theorists like Comcast, Deloitte, General Motors, Home Depot, Marathon Petroleum, Raytheon and SpaceX, among others.

"Support for these organizations does not represent an endorsement for all issues that the organization supports," General Motors said of a 2021 donation to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which signed a statement in support of election denialism.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

South Carolina GOP Leader (And Her Mom!) Busted In Bizarre Bar Scuffle

South Carolina GOP Leader (And Her Mom!) Busted In Bizarre Bar Scuffle

A high-ranking member of the South Carolina Republican Party is now facing charges of third-degree assault and battery after both she and her mother were involved in a late December brawl at a bar owned by her family.

According to a Thursday report in The State — Columbia, South Carolina's flagship newspaper — South Carolina Republican Party political director Braylee Estep, 22, was booked at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway, South Carolina on Wednesday along with her mother, Michele Stalvey Estep, 53. Both women allegedly struck an unnamed victim with their fists while drinking at Stalvey's Watering Hole on December 23.

The State cited a police report which described the alleged encounter between Estep, her mother, Estep's boyfriend and two unnamed bar patrons. In the report, a man believed to be Estep's boyfriend allegedly made a victim and a witness "feel uncomfortable" by "hanging his arms over their shoulders," which prompted Estep to "shake her head and call the victim and witness vulgar names."

Then, according to the police report, the "victim and witness then decided to leave and the 'bickering' continued between the two parties in the parking lot." Even though the victim and witness were leaving, Braylee Estep reportedly followed them and started to "bang on the window of the vehicle." This caught the attention of Estep's mother and an unnamed "third suspect" to rally to her side and allegedly escalate the altercation.

"At some point one of the suspects grabbed a Stanley cup from the vehicle’s cup holder and began to bang it on the vehicle, placing dents into the vehicle," The State's report read. "An arrest warrant said that Braylee Estep and Michele Estep did strike the victim several times with their hands, causing injury." After driving away, the victim and witness called local police. Both women were released on January 3 after posting a $5,000 bond.

According to Estep's LinkedIn profile, she became the political director of the South Carolina Republican Party last August, after serving as the party's deputy political director since June of 2023. Before then, Estep was a regional field director with the Georgia Republican Party, and assisted with get-out-the-vote efforts for both Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp's 2022 campaign for reelection as well as former NFL star Herschel Walker's unsuccessful bid for the US Senate.

In addition to owning Stalvey's Watering Hole, Estep's family also owns the Conway, South Carolina-based Stalvey's Bait & Tackle, which The State reported is connected to the bar.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.