Listen to Securities Attorney Tom Krebs on National Public Radio’s Planet Money.
Listen to Securities Attorney Tom Krebs on National Public Radio’s Planet Money.
FDIC approves Volcker revamp, in latest move to roll back bank rules
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board voted 3-1 Tuesday to give big banks more leeway to make risky short-term bets in financial markets by loosening a landmark but highly contentious regulation known as the Volcker rule. The FDIC and four other independent agencies have dropped their proposal to tie the rule to a strict accounting standard — a move that banks argued would have made it more burdensome by subjecting additional trades to heightened supervision. Instead, regulators will give banks the benefit of the doubt on a much wider range of trades, according to the text of the final rule. Democrats immediately slammed the Trump administration for loosening the rule, which was mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act in an effort to protect depositors’ money from being used by banks to turn a quick profit on short-term price changes in stocks, bonds and other financial assets. The rewrite “will not only put the U.S. economy at risk of another devastating financial crisis, but it could potentially leave taxpayers at risk of having to once again foot the bill for unnecessary and burdensome bank bailouts,” House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said in an email. “The final rule published today would curtail prohibitions in a manner that Congress never intended and allow Wall Street megabanks to
gamble with the same types of risky loan securitizations that turned toxic in 2008, at a time when these risky products are once again on the rise,” Waters added. The Volcker rule — a 2013 regulation named after former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, who came up with the concept — bars banks from making risky trades on their own behalf and restricts them from owning hedge funds or private equity funds. It has long come under fire for its complexity and has been a source of dissatisfaction for the regulators themselves. More:
General Electric shares plunge after report alleges it’s a ‘bigger fraud than Enron’
General Electric shares sank Thursday after a Madoff whistleblower accused the conglomerate of using accounting tricks to mask the extent of its financial problems and called it “a bigger fraud than Enron.” Harry Markopolos, who alerted regulators about Bernie Madoff, published a report Thursday that said GE’s accounting irregularities added up to $38 billion. The investigator, who is collaborating with a hedge fund that wasn’t named, says GE understated its costs and liabilities and misled investors in its financial statements. The research, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, alleges the problems are focused on GE’s insurance business, asserting the company is short on cash. “GE will always take any allegation of financial misconduct seriously. But this is market manipulation — pure and simple,” chief executive Lawrence Culp said in a statement. “The fact that he wrote a 170-page paper but never talked to company officials goes to show that he is not interested in accurate financial analysis, but solely in generating downward volatility in GE stock so that he and his undisclosed hedge fund partner can personally profit.” GE shares fell 11 percent, to $8.01, on Thursday. The stock traded near $12 a year ago and $30 at the start of 2017. Researchers who reviewed GE’s financial statements from 2002 to 2018 alleged that the company does not have enough cash to cover claims on long-term care policies, which help people pay for nursing homes and assisted living. The report contends GE reported earnings when policyholders were young and not filing insurance claims, but then miscalculated how much it would have to spend to issue those benefits. GE does not have “adequate reserves” to cover the liabilities on its long-term care business, even though it boosted those reserves by $15 billion last year, according to the research. Markopolos, who declined to comment for this article, says GE is understating potential its losses on insurance claims, adding they will climb “at an exponential rate” and put the company at risk of bankruptcy unless it finds a way to cover the costs. More:
WARNING SIGNS FLASH — Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell and Jon Hilsenrath: “Warning signs pointing to a deepening global economic slowdown—and the risk of recession—are flashing more brightly. Many of the biggest troubles are showing up overseas. But stock and bond markets are signaling that the threat of a downturn is spreading to the U.S., the world’s largest economy, now in its longest expansion on record.
“Economic output in Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, contracted in the second quarter, according to a report Wednesday, while a report on factory output in China, the second-largest economy, came in lower than expected. … The good news is that the U.S. isn’t confronted with severe excesses to unwind, as it was in the mid-2000s with the housing boom or the late 1990s with tech-stock gains. Because of that, some economists said any downturn might be mild.”
Wall Street is getting seriously gloomy about the economy, with recession warnings mounting and stocks tumbling just as President Donald Trump prepares to fire up his reelection campaign machine. Over just the last few days, economists at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America all warned that Trump’s bitter trade war with China is taking a bigger bite out of economic growth than expected.
The warnings came as stocks suffered another big dip on Monday with the Dow closing off nearly 400 points, or 1.5 percent. The blue-chip index closed at 25,897, over 700 points lower than it was in January of 2018 before Trump’s trade fights began in earnest. The collective wisdom now spreading across Wall Street is that no trade deal will be struck with China before the 2020 election; business investment will continue to sag; and a series of interest-rate cuts from the Federal Reserve won’t be enough to juice more growth out of an economy now in its tenth year of expansion — the longest stretch in American history. “It makes sense for everyone to be downgrading, because everyone assumed we’d have some kind of trade deal with China by now and we don’t,” said Megan Greene, an economist and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “And now we have the risk of the trade war turning into a currency war,” she said. “The consumer is still pretty strong, but business investment looks really bad and if it was going to pick up again it would have by now.” The president has transitioned from boasting about stock market gains to blaming the Fed for recent declines and softness in the economy. Overall economic growth cooled to a 2.1 percent pace in the second quarter after nearly hitting Trump’s goal of 3 percent last year following a round of tax cuts and higher federal spending. And he’s promised that he will win the fight with China. “The Fed’s high interest rate level, in comparison to other countries, is keeping the dollar high, making it more difficult for our great manufacturers,” Trump tweeted last week. Economists, however, note that interest rates adjusted for inflation remain very low by historic standards. And few businesses report having any trouble getting credit. The central bank last month reversed course and cut rates by a quarter point, citing uncertainty from the trade war. Wall Street analysts expect at least one more rate cut this year and possibly two or three. Instead of blaming the Fed, Wall Street economists are citing Trump himself as the biggest anchor on markets and the economy. “Fears that the trade war will trigger a recession are growing,” Goldman Sachs economists led by Jan Hatzius wrote in a note to clients over the weekend. “We expect tariffs targeting the remaining $300 billion of U.S. imports from China to go into effect and no longer expect a trade deal before the 2020 election.” Goldman increased its estimate of the potential economic hit from the trade war to 0.6 percent of gross domestic product, both through the direct channel of higher costs due to tariffs and reduced investment by businesses afraid of what might happen next. Goldman now expects the economy to grow at just 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter of the year. Bank of America analysts led by Michelle Meyer in a note out on Friday increased their warning of a recession by 2020. “We are worried,” the analysts wrote. “We now have a number of early indicators starting to signal heightened risk of recession. Our official model has the probability of a recession over the next 12 months only pegged at about 20 percent, but our subjective call based on the slew of data and events leads us to believe it is closer to a 1-in-3 chance.” Those indicators include the fact that investors are now demanding higher interest rates on short-term debt than they are longer term debt, a phenomena known as an “inverted yield curve” that tends to precede recessions. The inverted curve generally means investors expect economic conditions to get worse rather than better in the future.
Trump administration is considering pulling back $3 billion in foreign aid
The Trump administration is considering taking back more than $3 billion in foreign aid that Congress already approved, in a move that senators from both parties are calling questionably legal and promising to resist. The Office of Management and Budget instructed the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development earlier this month to provide a balance sheet of foreign aid projects that have not yet been funded. Unless Congress intervenes, the money may be returned to the U.S. Treasury at the end of fiscal year on Sept. 30. A scramble is on to allocate the money before the administration announces the expected change, which would freeze the billions of dollars left. In his previous two budgets, President Trump proposed steep cuts to foreign aid, but Congress restored them. Lawmakers from both parties view the last-minute move as a backdoor attempt to get the cuts, despite their objections, before they can do anything about them. The OMB memo, which was read to The Washington Post, said the administration plans to target expiring international assistance funds considered “unnecessary.” “If Congress fails to take action to release the funds, they will remain on hold until the end of the fiscal year . . . then be returned to the Treasury,” the memo says. An administration official declined to comment, saying, “We do not comment on alleged leaks and will not discuss deliberative and pre-decisional information.” With the House out of session until after Labor Day, and the Senate set to consider the nomination of a Supreme Court justice next month, it is unlikely that lawmakers will find time to stave off a politically charged change — particularly in the weeks before the midterm elections. More:
Vatican Calls Abuses by Pennsylvania Priests ‘Criminal and Morally Reprehensible’
The Vatican responded on Thursday to the horrors of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse, saying it felt shame and sorrow over the findings that more than 1,000 children had been abused by hundreds of priests over decades while bishops covered up their crimes. “The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” the Vatican statement said of the report, which was released on Tuesday, shocking Catholics with lurid tales of abusive priests and superiors who turned a blind eye. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.” “Victims should know that the pope is on their side,” the statement said. “Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.” It was one of the strongest mea culpas to date on an issue that Pope Francis has tried to address head-on in recent months, after mounting criticism that the pope had a blind spot when it came to dealing with the sexual abuse of minors by clerics. More:
Pompeo forms ‘Iran Action Group’ for post-nuke deal policy
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is forming a dedicated group to coordinate and run U.S. policy toward Iran as the Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the Islamic Republic’s behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. The State Department said Pompeo will announce the creation of the Iran Action Group on Thursday. Officials said the group will be headed by Brian Hook, who is currently the State Department’s director of policy planning. Hook led the Trump administration’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the accord. Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as “malign activities” in the region. In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran’s human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil. The administration is warning Iran’s oil customers that they will face U.S. sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore or attempt to subvert the re-imposed U.S. sanctions. In his new job, Hook is to oversee implementation of the administration’s entire Iran policy, the officials said. Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran and maintain they only want to see the government change course. Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the CIA. Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on President Donald Trump’s national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Judge Says A ‘Well-Planned Conspiracy’ In Kim Jong Nam’s Death
Two women accused of killing Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s dictator, will remain in custody after a judge in Malaysia on Thursday said there is enough evidence of a “well-planned conspiracy” to move the case forward. The two women, 25-year-old Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian national, and 29-year-old Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese national, allegedly smeared the banned nerve agent VX on Kim’s face in the airport of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February 2017. Kim died in 20 minutes. Although there has never been any definitive proof, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is widely believed to have ordered his brother’s execution. The women say they were tricked into participating in the attack and thought it was part of a reality TV show prank. Four North Korean men have also been charged as part of the death, but they left Malaysia the morning of the attack and remain at large. Trial judge Azmi Ariffin called the murder of Kim a “well-planned conspiracy between the women and the four North Koreans at large,” according to Reuters, which reports that the judge called upon the two women to prepare a defense for a trial to be held sometime between November and February. They could face the death penalty if convicted. The judge added that although there was not enough evidence to say whether it was a political assassination, he could not rule it out. More:
What to watch as Brexit talks resume in Brussels
The latest round of Brexit negotiations kicked off today in Brussels, with just two months to go before October’s EU Summit — widely seen as one of the last feasible dates to secure a withdrawal treaty.
Why it matters: Consensus has been reached on about 85% of the deal, per the NYTimes’ Steven Erlanger, but several of the most contentious issues, including the Irish border dilemma and the U.K.’s customs and trade relationship with the EU, have yet to be resolved.
What to watch:
Go deeper: The U.K. is changing its mind on Brexit.
Dream of a Better Life in Afghanistan Ends in a Hilltop Grave for Students
KABUL, Afghanistan — The teenage students were lowered into a mass grave one after another, shoulder to shoulder — just as they had sat at their lecture hall the day before. A suicide bomber, perhaps no older than they, had walked in as their algebra class ended and physics was about to begin, detonating his explosive vest and turning the university prep center into a scene of carnage. On the whiteboard, basic algebraic equations were covered in blood. A nearby blackboard, where “Valentine day” was written in faded chalk, was riddled with holes from the ball bearings that were packed into the bomber’s vest. The lecture hall had been so packed, and the explosion so powerful that nearly half the 230 students were among the casualties. Health officials said at least 40 were killed and 67 others wounded. The mangled bodies were hard to identify. At the hilltop burial site on Thursday, Roshan Ghaznavi, a human rights campaigner, wept over the coffin of a girl named Negina from a poor family; she had been their best hope for a better life. “Today, it is Negina’s casket, tomorrow it will be my casket, the day after it will be your casket,” Ms. Ghaznavi said. “Humanity is dead here. It’s been dead for a long time.” The attack was claimed by the Islamic State, its latest in a brutal string of bloody bombings against civilian targets, everything from mosques to schools, and even a midwife training center. The Islamic State’s hold on Afghan territory was never large, and has been slipping, but its cruel brand of bloodshed has compounded Afghans’ suffering during years of war against the Taliban. More:
Pentagon says China military ‘likely training for strikes’ on U.S. targets
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s military has expanded its bomber operations in recent years while “likely training for strikes” against the United States and its allies, a Pentagon report released on Thursday said. The assessment, which comes at a time of heightened U.S.-China tensions over trade, was contained in an annual report that highlighted China’s efforts to increase its global influence, with defense spending that the Pentagon estimates exceeded $190 billion in 2017. “Over the last three years, the PLA has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets,” the report said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army. The report comes as China and the United States plan to hold trade talks, offering hope they might resolve an escalating tariff conflict that threatens to degenerate into an all-out trade war. The report said that while the PLA had continued to extend operations, it was not clear what message Beijing was seeking to send by carrying out the flights “beyond a demonstration of improved capabilities.” The Chinese embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment. This year China’s air force landed bombers on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the disputed region. More:
New U.S. training unit in Afghanistan faces old problems
CAMP DAHLKE, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Captain Joe Fontana, a team leader with the U.S. army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, is part of a new unit but he is working on problems that have been stubbornly familiar to American military advisers in Afghanistan for years. The 1st SFAB was formed last year as a new force of experienced advisers, to focus U.S. army training and support for Afghan troops and, in future, for other foreign armies. It deployed to Afghanistan in March, putting U.S. advisers, previously largely restricted to Corps headquarters, together with front-line brigades and battalions for the first time since most international forces left in 2014. The SFAB has arrived at a time of increasing pressure on the Afghan National Army (ANA) from Taliban fighters who overran a series of outposts and stormed the strategic city of Ghazni this week. The problems they have found are the same ones that existed a decade ago when the NATO-led coalition began to reshape Afghan forces into an army on U.S. lines – poor logistics and organization as well as a reliance on static checkpoints that are vulnerable to attack. Like other advisers, Fontana, who served in a combat unit in the southern Afghan provinces of Zabul and Kandahar in 2011-12 as well as in Iraq, speaks admiringly of the fighting spirit of Afghan soldiers. But he said the army is dogged by persistent problems with supplies, maintaining equipment and making sure units get proper support, issues which for years have been an obstacle to creating Afghan forces capable of standing on their own. More:
Laser Attacks on U.S. Pilots Rising Sharply in Middle East
Hostile forces are targeting U.S. pilots with laser pointers at an increasing rate, putting aircrews at risk over the Middle East and the South China Sea. The number of laser incidents so far this year is on track to top the roughly 600 incidents reported in 2016 and match 2015, when there were a total of about 700 incidents in the Middle East. The figures were obtained by The Wall Street Journal. American pilots operating in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan experienced most of the more than 350 laser incidents reported over the last seven months—almost as many as took place during the whole of 2017. The Pentagon this year acknowledged attacks around an American base in Djibouti in east Africa, where laser beams appeared to come from a nearby Chinese base. A small number of incidents also took place in the East China Sea, where U.S. pilots were hit by laser beams that may have come from Chinese personnel or from fishermen operating in the area. China denied any involvement.
Trump gears up to strip more clearances from officials tied to Russia investigation
President Trump has told advisers that he is eager to strip more security clearances as part of an escalating attack against people who have criticized him or played a role in the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, two White House officials said. Over the past 19 months, Trump has fired or threatened to take action against nearly a dozen current and former officials associated with the inquiry, which he has labeled a “rigged witch hunt,” including former FBI director James B. Comey, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. All three were dismissed. Trump intensified his attacks this week by stripping former CIA director John Brennan of his security clearance and announcing that others are under review. Brennan and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who is on Trump’s review list, were among the Obama administration officials who briefed Trump before his inauguration on evidence of Russia’s interference in the campaign. The president has repeatedly urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other officials to end the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign and whether the president has sought to obstruct justice. To critics, Trump’s moves echo President Richard Nixon’s decision to force the abrupt firing of Watergate special counsel Archibald Cox. “If you did all this in one day, it would have a ‘Saturday night massacre’ odor to it,” said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution fellow who oversees the Lawfare Blog on national security issues, referring to the 1973 move by Nixon that prompted resignations by the Justice Department’s top two officials. “But you spread it out and get people used to the first one, then you do the second one — over a long period of time, it becomes the new normal.” More:
Former US security leaders blast Trump for yanking clearance
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former U.S. security officials issued scathing rebukes to President Donald Trump on Thursday, admonishing him for yanking a top former spy chief’s security clearance in what they cast as an act of political vengeance. Trump said he’d had to do “something” about the “rigged” federal probe of Russian election interference. Trump’s admission that he acted out of frustration about the Russia probe underscored his willingness to use his executive power to fight back against an investigation he sees as a threat to his presidency. Legal experts said the dispute may add to the evidence being reviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. In an opinion piece in The New York Times, former CIA Director John Brennan said Trump’s decision, announced Wednesday, to deny him access to classified information was a desperate attempt to end Mueller’s investigation. Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama and has become a vocal Trump critic, called Trump’s claims that he did not collude with Russia “hogwash.” The only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” Brennan wrote. Later Thursday, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics.” Writing in The Washington Post, William H. McRaven said he would “consider it an honor” if Trump would revoke his clearance, as well. “Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven wrote. That was followed late Thursday by a joint letter from 12 former senior intelligence officials calling Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented.” They said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.” The signees included six former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Two of the signees — Clapper and former CIA Director Michael Hayden — have appeared on a White House list of people who may also have their security clearances revoked. Trump on Wednesday openly tied his decision to strip Brennan of his clearance — and threaten nearly a dozen other former and current officials — to the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with his campaign. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump again called the probe a “rigged witch hunt” and said “these people led it!” More:
Why the FBI Fired an Agent Who Wrote Anti-Tump Texts
The FBI’s disciplinary office had recommended Peter Strzok be suspended for two months but was overruled by the bureau’s deputy director. The paperwork was signed. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who became a lightning rod for efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, was set to receive a two-month suspension and a demotion as punishment for his alleged misconduct during the 2016 election. Then the FBI’s Deputy Director David Bowdich stepped in and fired him, saying he had undermined “the credibility of the FBI.” Strzok came under fire late last year after the Justice Department released text messages that he sent using an FBI-issued device that were critical of Trump. But questions have been raised about what specific bureau policies Strzok violated in sending those texts. Candice Will, long-time deputy director of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, had cited three ways in which Strzok allegedly violated FBI policies during the election, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The first, “unprofessional conduct off-duty,” directly related to his use of an FBI-issued cell phone to send the private texts. The second, “investigative deficiency”—later reduced to “dereliction of supervisory duty”— related to Strzok’s perceived delay in searching a laptop as part of the probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails in the fall of 2016 that belonged to Anthony Weiner, the husband of a top Clinton aide. Finally, Will told Strzok that he had committed a “security violation” for forwarding certain law-enforcement sensitive documents to his personal Gmail account. Bowdich’s decision to overrule her and fire Strzok on August 10 was considered highly unusual. More:
Veterans Group Sues to Block VA Shadow Rulers
A new lawsuit challenges the legality of a secret Mar-a-Lago troika after ProPublica revealed its influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A liberal veterans group is suing to block the influence of three outside advisers who have been secretly influencing the Department of Veterans Affairs from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. ProPublica reported last week that the advisers — Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz and Washington lawyer Marc Sherman — have been shaping VA personnel and policy decisions despite having no official role or relevant expertise.
The trio, sometimes referred to as the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd,” is failing to disclose its activities as required by federal law, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court in Washington, D.C., by VoteVets, a liberal activist group that says it represents 500,000 supporters. The Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA, is a Watergate-era sunshine law that requires federal agencies to inform the public when they consult outside experts. VoteVets wants a judge to order the Mar-a-Lago Crowd to disclose records of its activities and cease influencing the VA until it complies with the law. The suit also asks that future meetings of the group be opened to public participation and that minutes of its meetings be kept. “This group has been operating in the dark,” said Will Fischer, VoteVets’ director of government relations. “Our goal in bringing this lawsuit is to bring these activities to light and make sure our members, veterans and military families are able to see what’s going on with our VA and the people directing the activities of our VA.” The VA referred questions about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which didn’t answer a request for comment. In a statement, a spokeswoman for Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz responded: “We have watched with concern as media outlets — including ProPublica — have misrepresented our actions and used selective emails to paint a distorted picture of our efforts to help the VA and America’s veterans.” The statement asserted that none of the group’s “volunteer efforts,” which it characterized as “recommendations” made in response to requests from the VA, were conducted in secret and that the group didn’t attempt to develop policy or influence personnel decisions. VoteVets is represented by Democracy Forward, an activist group that challenges actions by the Trump administration. The group has brought similar lawsuits against a hunting council at the Interior Department and an infrastructure panel at the departments of Transportation and Commerce. In the latter case, a judge granted initial discovery. “It looks like what was happening here was a group of people giving collective advice to the VA, which is precisely the kind of case where FACA should apply,” said John Bies, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Obama administration. More:
Senate, After One Day Back at the Capitol, Packs It In for the Week
Senators didn’t exactly extend themselves with the floor schedule for their first week back in session in August, though they did confirm another pair of President Donald Trump’s nominees to be judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. and Julius Ness Richardson. Quattlebaum was confirmed Thursday on a 62-28 vote, while Richardson got by on an 81-8 vote. The heavier lift will come next week. The Senate on Wednesday reached an agreement that allowed the body to turn to a package of the Defense and Labor-HHS-Education spending measures as soon as lawmakers voted to confirm Richardson. The order also took care of procedural issues that are particular to floor consideration of appropriation bills. “This process is not easy. It is hard work for our Appropriations subcommittees and full committee to craft this legislation. Then, here on the floor, we need cooperation from both sides to process amendments while resisting the temptation to turn the appropriations process into a free-for-all on all manner of policy issues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday morning. “But this year, that’s just what we’re doing. The Senate has already passed sevenof 12 bills. In the next several days, we’ll consider No. 8 and No. 9. Once we finish them, they’ll encompass more than 87 percent of total discretionary spending,” the Kentucky Republican added. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer signaled his own support for the current vibe on appropriations. “I hope we’ll follow the same, bipartisan course of the previous few bills,” the New York Democrat said on the floor.
Space Force Could Be Compromised From the Get-Go, Watchdog Warns
The Air Force is not adequately monitoring the pedigree of parts that go into critical space systems, and they are consequently at risk of being compromised by America’s enemies, according to a Pentagon inspector general report released Thursday. It was the second of four audits that Congress has ordered on the subject, and the results so far indicate a systemic failure to safeguard what goes into U.S. weapons and satellites. Air Force Space Command did not identify all its components and suppliers, nor sufficiently conduct threat assessments, nor require the purchase of the proper circuits from trusted suppliers, nor ensure the right testing capabilities, the audit said. “As a result, an adversary has opportunity to infiltrate the Air Force Space Command supply chain and sabotage, maliciously introduce an unwanted function or otherwise compromise the design or integrity of the critical hardware, software and firmware,” the report concluded. The inspector general’s work suggests that systems that are critical not only to the U.S. military but also to the global economy could be jeopardized. The audit on space assets comes as President Donald Trump has stressed their importance and has advocated creation of a separate military branch to be called Space Force. The new audit focused mainly on the U.S. program to develop new missile-warning satellites, called the Space Based Infrared System. In that program, the Air Force relied on contractors’ assurances about the pedigree of components rather than independently verifying them, the report said. The Air Force was unable to provide the auditors with the name and nationality of the developers involved with designing the satellites. And the command “did not perform due diligence” on all the suppliers.
Trump’s favorite presidential powers
As President Trump has settled into Year 2 of his presidency, he has become especially enamored with powers he can exercise — just like back at the Trump Organization — without the approval or even consultation of anyone else.
Four sources close to Trump tell Axios that the revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan’s clearance belongs in the same category as the president’s love of the pardon power and the signing of executive orders.
Now — after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pointed out to Trump that he could revoke security clearances from former senior officials who were attacking him — he is clearly relishing the unilateral power:
Another source close to Trump said: “I don’t believe Trump is inclined to do anything that erodes separation of powers — at least, nothing that exceeds the historical rate at which executive power has expanded.”
Reality check: The White House has provided no evidence that Brennan is a threat to national security.
Be smart: The narrative that Trump is doing this to silence Brennan — as the former CIA director suggested in his N.Y. Times Op-Ed — is absurd.
The takeway: Trump always needs a villain to run against and he and his media allies, like Fox’s Sean Hannity, are trying to brand Brennan as the sinister face of the “Deep State” that they claim is out to get Trump.
Trump calls on regulators to consider changing how often companies report earnings
President Trump on Friday called on financial regulators to consider allowing public companies to share information with the public less often, a potentially major shakeup of corporate America. “That would allow greater flexibility & save money,” Trump said in a tweet. Currently, publicly-traded companies must file quarterly reports, disclosing extensive details about their operations, including profits and revenue. But some chief executives have complained that these type of requirements lead them to focus on short-term profits rather than the long-term health of their companies. In his tweet, Trump said that the Securities and Exchange Commission should consider moving the reporting requirement to every six months instead of every three. Trump said the proposal follows conversations with the “world’s top business leaders” about how to “make business (jobs) even better in the U.S.” The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The proposal is likely to be lambasted by shareholder advocates, who in recent years have called on corporations to share more information with the public not less. More:
Banks Are Eyeing $1.5 Trillion in Credit Card Secrets
Few people can get inside your head—or at least the part of your brain that makes spending decisions—quite like Scott Grimes and Lynne Laube. The co-founders of Cardlytics Inc. deal in some of the most valuable and revealing personal data on the planet: how people use their debit and credit cards. They’re quietly helping some of the largest banks in the U.S. to mine what’s known in the trade as purchase data and use it to encourage customers to buy more things with their plastic. Conventional banks are trying to raise their data game to fend off fast-growing financial technology startups and hold on to customers. “This is the bank’s secret weapon in the digital wars,” Silvio Tavares, chief executive officer of the trade group CardLinx Association, says of purchase data. But it’s a weapon they have to be extremely careful about using. Although consumers are constantly being asked to trade some privacy for convenience and service, banks hold a particular position of trust. In early August the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook Inc. had approached banks and asked them to share data about their customers, to help it create services such as a way to check balances inside a Facebook app. Facebook said it wasn’t using purchase data to push advertising. Several major banks quickly put out statements saying they weren’t sharing data with the social media company. More:
Meet the Special Counsel Team: So Careful They Won’t Even Disclose Their Shake Shack Orders
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Greg D. Andres looked like any ordinary guest at the Westin hotel here, standing near the valet in flip-flops and a white Notre Dame boxing T-shirt, waiting for a Postmates delivery from Shake Shack. The moment would be unremarkable save for Mr. Andres’s role as the lead prosecutor for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in the trial of Paul Manafort, concluding its third week here. Even the briefest glimpses of Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who have spoken publicly only in court papers and short court appearances since the inquiry began, draw notice. Mr. Manafort’s tax and bank fraud trial has provided the first real look at the special counsel’s team, the elusive players in the central drama of Washington political life and the subjects of fascination for the capital’s chattering classes. Tagged by President Trump as “17 angry Democrats,” they have shown themselves to be typical, if harried, government lawyers, staying at the hotel opposite the courthouse to devote most of their waking hours to trying the case. Other members of the special counsel’s office have joined Mr. Andres in the courtroom, including Andrew Weissmann, one of Mr. Mueller’s top deputies, who oversaw the prosecution from a seat in the back. Like a basketball coach during timeouts, he huddled with the others during recesses for strategy sessions, clutching a green government-issue notebook that the rest of the team used during the trial, making them easy to identify. The prosecutors snacked on Life Savers and orange-colored Starburst candy from jars that sat near Judge T. S. Ellis III. They drank from worn foam cups marked with their initials. Next to them sat a black catering-style cart labeled “Property of SCO” — Special Counsel’s Office — piled with binders of documents. Mr. Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr, whose “no comment” replies have become a running dark joke among the Washington press corps, sat among the spectators and reporters. He would not even confirm Mr. Andres’s order from Shake Shack, deferring to reportorial observation. Nor would Mr. Andres himself. Asked later whether he had in fact ordered Shake Shack, he laughed, then paused. “I can’t say,” he said, his usual response when journalists at the hotel asked him about his work as he strolled the lobby juggling half-eaten bags of Lay’s potato chips, Starbucks beverages and Diet Coke, his hair tousled and tie loosened. More:
Court filing: Mueller team has three times as much evidence for next Manafort trial
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has triple the amount to evidence to present in the next criminal trial of President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Prosecutors have nearly three times the number of exhibits to present in the upcoming Washington, D.C., trial compared to the Virginia trial that is still in jury deliberations, according to a Thursday court filing obtained by CNN. Mueller’s team reportedly has over 1,000 pieces of evidence to present in Manafort’s D.C. federal case over foreign lobbying and money laundering charges. Prosecutor Greg Andres said in the Virginia court Wednesday that 388 documents were submitted into evidence in the case currently under jury deliberation.
The judge in the D.C. criminal case told prosecutors to “review” their collection “with an eye towards streamlining the presentation of its case,” according to CNN. Manafort’s defense attorneys asked a D.C. judge on Thursday to push their filing deadline back because they have not been given enough time to make plans for the September trial, CNN reported. The judge granted them a four day extension.
Most of the evidence in the two criminal cases will not overlap, CNN reported. Both cases pertain to Manafort’s time as a political consultant to Ukraine. He is accused of illegal lobbying as well as alleged bank and tax fraud. Manafort’s indictment resulted from Mueller’s team during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including whether Moscow colluded with members of the Trump campaign. The charges against Manafort are not tied to his work on the Trump campaign, and some of the alleged crimes predate the election by several years.
The Mueller Investigation Is Now on Trial, Too
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — For the past two weeks, the trial in the case of United States of America v. Paul J. Manafort Jr. has played out inside a courtroom sealed off from the outside world. Phones and laptops are not permitted in the Albert V. Bryan Courthouse in suburban Virginia. There is no Twitter. Journalists covering the trial take notes by hand and file their updates via pay phone or by running outside the courthouse to find WiFi before dashing back inside again. As one columnist put it, the Manafort trial “may be one of the most Trump-free spaces on the planet at the moment.” The main players in this daily drama — Judge T.S. Ellis III, the lawyers representing Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Manafort’s team of defense attorneys — have had their own reasons for preserving this insular existence. Ellis made it clear from the outset that he did not want the trial devolving into a politically charged circus. The government’s charges against Manafort largely cover the period from 2010 to 2014, predating his stint as President Trump’s campaign chairman. And Manafort’s own lawyers surely saw no benefit in highlighting their client’s connections to Trump before a group of jurors who live in a place that broke heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now, after 12 long days, the trial is nearly over. Just before 10 a.m. Thursday, the jurors left the courtroom and began their secret deliberations over whether Manafort is innocent or guilty of the 18 counts related to tax and bank fraud brought by Mueller. (Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.) The closing arguments delivered Wednesday only underscored the curious nature — and massive stakes — of this case. There was little, if any, mention of Donald Trump, Russia, oligarchs or election interference. But there were discussions about whether Mueller’s office had overstepped its bounds by bringing these specific financial charges against Manafort. It was a line of argument that served as a reminder: A win or loss will equally affect the credibility of the Mueller investigation, its ability to carry on its work and the public’s reception of its eventual findings. More:
Trump responds after hundreds of newspaper editorials criticize his attacks on the press
Hundreds of newspaper editorial boards across the country answered a nationwide call Thursday to express disdain for President Trump’s attacks on the news media, while some explained their decision not to do so. The same morning, the president tweeted that the “fake news media” are the “opposition party.” The editorials came after the Boston Globe’s editorial board called on others to use their collective voice to respond to Trump’s war of words with news organizations in the United States. Trump has labeled the news media “the enemy of the American people” and called much of the coverage “fake news.” “Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people,’ ” the Globe’s op-ed board wrote in an editorial published online Wednesday. “This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out ‘magic’ dust or water on a hopeful crowd.” The Globe’s editorial board made the appeal last week, urging newspaper editorial boards to produce opinion pieces about Trump’s attacks on the media. These boards, staffed by opinion writers, operate independently from news reporters and editors. As The Washington Post’s policy explains, the separation is intended to serve the reader, “who is entitled to the facts in the news columns and to opinions on the editorial and ‘op-ed’ pages.” The Globe reported Thursday that more than 300 of them obliged. Trump responded to the editorials on the same morning, tweeting that the Globe is “in collusion with other papers on free press” and that many of the media are “pushing a political agenda.” A month after taking the oath of office, Trump labeled the news media “the enemy of the American people.” In the year that followed, a CNN analysis concluded, he used the word “fake” — as in “fake news,” “fake stories,” “fake media” or “fake polls” — more than 400 times. He once fumed, the New York Times reported, because a TV on Air Force One was tuned to CNN. Then last week, at a political rally in Pennsylvania, Trump told his audience that the media were “fake, fake disgusting news.” “Whatever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked the crowd. Then he pointed to a group of journalists covering the event. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”
In response, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editorial board wrote:
Let’s start with a fundamental truth: It is and always has been in the interests of the powerful to dismiss and discredit those who could prove a check on their power. President Donald Trump is not the first politician to openly attack the media for fulfilling its watchdog role. He is, perhaps, the most blatant and relentless about it. To this president, the journalist’s time-honored role in a democracy is meaningless. Reporters present a fact-finding counter to the fanciful narrative Trump spins daily. See more responses:
Free Press Gets a Boost With Senate Resolution Declaring It Is Not the Enemy
The Senate on Thursday went on record declaring “that the press is not the enemy of the people” — a rebuke to President Donald Trump, who declares the opposite on a regular basis. Senators adopted by unanimous consent a resolution from Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York to declare the Senate’s support for a free press and the First Amendment protections afforded to journalists. The resolution text was released the same day 350 newspapers ran editorials designed to push back on Trump’s criticisms of the media. That action provoked a response from Trump, who responded in a series of Thursday morning tweets. “There is nothing that I would want more for our Country than true FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. The fact is that the Press is FREE to write and say anything it wants, but much of what it says is FAKE NEWS, pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people,” Trump wrote. “HONESTY WINS!” The Schatz-Schumer resolution “reaffirms the vital and indispensable role the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate, and otherwise advance our most basic and cherished democratic norms and freedoms.” “This bill is an opportunity for us to uphold our oath and make clear that we support liberty and free speech,” Schatz said in a statement. “It also sends the message that the legislative branch is capable of functioning as a separate and co-equal branch of government.” The preamble to the measure highlights a number of past debates, including litigation, about press freedoms. It also quotes from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, stating, “The freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.” “We rely on reporters and newscasters to keep our leaders honest, accountable, and always working in the best interest of the American people. I truly believe that America always solves its problems and combating dangerous and irresponsible attacks on journalism is no exception,” Schumer said in a statement.
Fact Checker Analysis
Who is Bruce Ohr and why does Trump keep tweeting about him?
“Bruce Ohr of the ‘Justice’ Department (can you believe he is still there) is accused of helping disgraced Christopher Steele ‘find dirt on Trump.’ Ohr’s wife, Nelly, was in on the act big time – worked for Fusion GPS on Fake Dossier.”
— President Trump, in a tweet, Aug. 14, 2018
“The big story that the Fake News Media refuses to report is lowlife Christopher Steele’s many meetings with Deputy A.G. Bruce Ohr and his beautiful wife, Nelly. It was Fusion GPS that hired Steele to write the phony & discredited Dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary & the DNC.”
— Trump, in a tweet, Aug. 11
Who is Bruce Ohr?
Ohr exists in a netherworld — a subject of fascination in right-leaning media, barely a mention in mainstream media. His name last appeared in the pages of The Washington Post in February, and yet President Trump keeps tweeting about him. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in announcing that Trump had revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, listed the names of other people who also faced revocation of clearances. Ohr’s name was on the list.
We have previously tried to explain the roles of former British agent Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Ohr is less of a central player, but as a reader service, we will try to disentangle the president’s tweets and explain what is known – and unknown – about Ohr’s actions. We will not offer a Pinocchio rating.
First, let’s take a look at the key players. Fusion GPS was started by a group of former Wall Street Journal reporters, notably investigative reporter Glenn R. Simpson. Fusion in 2015 began investigating Trump under a contract with the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website financially supported by GOP megadonor Paul Singer. That assignment ended once Trump was on track to win the nomination. But in April 2016, Fusion was hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to keep funding the research. (Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained the firm.) Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, was hired by Fusion to examine Trump’s ties in Russia. Steele was the author of the “dossier” alleging ties between Trump and Russia; the dossier is actually several memos, based on conversations with Russian sources, that were written between June and December of 2016. More:
GOP’s midterm peril: What if they win on killing Obamacare?
MISHAWAKA, Ind. — Republican candidates are trying to have it both ways on Obamacare. On one hand, Republicans are still campaigning against the law, arguing a strong election result will allow them one more shot at repealing the Affordable Care Act with GOP majorities in both chambers. And many high-profile Senate GOP candidates support a lawsuit that would scuttle Obamacare if successful in the nation’s courts, a case that will be heard by a federal judge in September. Yet at the same time Republicans are still touting the law’s most popular provisions, arguing that after it is struck down they will be able to preserve protections for pre-existing conditions by passing a new bill. GOP challengers in four of the most competitive Senate races support the lawsuit. “Sure, anything that’s going to actually get rid of it, yes,” said Indiana GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun of the GOP lawsuit to gut the law in an interview in Mishawaka. “And then be ready to come back and talk about what you’re ready to do about pre-existing conditions and no limits on coverage. That’s where you don’t hear much conservative talk.”
The problem? Congress has shown no ability to pass new healthcare legislation under Republican rule or work across party lines, raising severe doubts that the GOP would be able to fulfill its promises to both kill the law and maintain its popular provisions. More:
Omarosa releases recording of $15K-per-month job offer from Lara Trump
Omarosa Manigault Newman on Thursday released a recording of what appeared to be President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and campaign adviser Lara Trump offering the former “Apprentice” star a job on the president’s campaign for $15,000 a month — an offer Manigault Newman said she saw as an “attempt to buy” her silence. The newly released tape, one of multiple to come out this week, is the first since Trump’s campaign filed an arbitration proceeding against Manigualt Newman alleging that she violated a 2016 nondisclosure agreement, an accusation Manigault Newman has denied. The recording also appears to authenticate the claim Manigault Newman made in her recently released book, that she was offered a $15,000-per-month job with the Trump campaign after being fired by the administration.
“The president has said he’s happy I was fired, I’m a lowlife, I’m a dog, all these things. But then you find out behind the scenes they’re saying how awesome I am and how great I am and I should come on the campaign,” Manigualt Newman said in an interview with MSNBC. “So, really, what is it, which one of it is it? Is it that they supported me or they want me out?” The recording between Manigualt Newman and Lara Trump was released exclusively to MSNBC, with four clips of the conversation, selected by Manigault Newman, played on air. MSNBC disclosed a producer for the network listened to the whole recording. In the recording, Lara Trump, a top official with the Trump campaign and the wife of the president’s son Eric Trump, begins by talking about a New York Times article written by reporter Maggie Haberman. More:
“Death Spiral”: Why Omarosa Totally Triggered Trump
In the days before Omarosa Manigault Newman rolled out her White House tell-all, Unhinged, Donald Trump’s advisers were hoping he wouldn’t engage with the book, believing it would only elevate her claims and help sell more copies. “Just ignore it,” one told me, while even Melania Trump told her husband to let it go, Axios reported. Of course, this being Donald Trump, he ignored their counsel and went to war. Now advisers fear his rage at Manigault Newman is fueling irrational outbursts that bolster the claim in her book that Trump said the “n-word” during an Apprentice outtake. In recent days, Trump has called Manigault Newman “crazed,” a “lowlife,” and a “dog” on Twitter. His campaign filed an arbitration suit against her seeking “millions.” And Trump told advisers that he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have Manigault Newman arrested, according to one Republican briefed on the conversations. (It’s unclear what law Trump believes she broke.) Another Republican recounted how over the weekend Trump derailed a midterm-election strategy session to rant about Manigault Newman’s betrayal. In an effort to change the narrative, the White House announced yesterday that Trump had revoked former C.I.A. director John Brennan’s security clearance. But that only ignited a new public-relations crisis. A former West Wing official compared Trump’s erratic behavior this week to the P.R. nightmare he created by attacking grieving Muslim-American Gold Star parents during the 2016 campaign. It’s a “death spiral,” the former official said. Advisers and friends offered differing theories to explain Trump’s nuclear response to a book that has failed to top the best-seller list, even while Trump has campaigned against it. “He’s known her for 15 years and thinks it’s a personal betrayal,” the former West Wing official said. Others said Manigault Newman’s well-oiled media rollout ignited Trump’s fury. “She is doing everything perfect if her ultimate goal is to troll Trump,” another former official said. One longtime Trump friend said Trump is so reactive to Manigault Newman’s book because he instinctively trusts women more than men. Throughout his career, he has allowed women to get close to him, from his early assistant, Norma Foerderer, to Rhona Graff, to Hope Hicks. Meanwhile, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg told me that Trump is lashing out because he sees Manigault Newman as a “formidable enemy.” “Hell hath no fury like Omarosa scorned,” Nunberg said.
NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes
Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman is reportedly believed to have scores of recordings from her time working for President Trump, leaving other aides concerned. The New York Times reported on Thursday that the former White House aide could have as many as 200 tapes that may contain information about the president and people close to him. The newspaper reported that a number of Trump administration aides have expressed concern that they too will make an appearance on Manigault Newman’s other tapes, as she continues to release bombshell recordings in promotion of her new tell-all book, “Unhinged.” The report arrives on the heels of a recording released by Manigault Newman on Thursday morning showing the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, offering the former aide a job following her dismissal from the White House last year. More:
Trump has now fired or threatened most senior officials related to the Russia investigation
President Trump says that although he has never obstructed justice in the Russia investigation, he does “fight back.” And, as of Wednesday, he had “fought back” against a majority of top officials involved in leading, overseeing or making administration decisions about that probe. According to an analysis by The Washington Post, of the more than a dozen officials with what could be construed as leadership roles in the investigation, more than half have been fired and/or threatened with official recourse. The most recent examples were the White House’s revocation of former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday and the threats to do the same for nine other current and former officials who have run afoul of Trump. In one fell swoop, the White House effectively more than doubled its enemies list — and served notice that ex-officials who were involved in the probe will not be permitted to criticize Trump willy-nilly. Not all the firings have come directly from Trump or relate directly to the probe; FBI officials Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok, for instance, were terminated by the bureau after highly critical inspector-general reports, and former acting attorney general Sally Yates refused to defend Trump’s travel ban in court. But Trump has targeted all of them, and all three also saw their security clearances threatened Wednesday (even as McCabe and Strzok don’t appear to have them anymore).
Here’s a rundown:
Loretta E. Lynch: Has not been criticized by Trump for Russia investigation but has been for Clinton investigation
Sally Yates (acting): Fired for refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban, security clearance threatened
Jeff Sessions: Threatened with firing or being forced out via tweets and private comments
Rod J. Rosenstein (acting for Russia investigation in light of Sessions’s recusal): Threatened repeatedly
James B. Comey: Fired, security clearance threatened (despite apparently not having one)
Andrew McCabe: Fired for issues unrelated to Russia probe (with Trump’s approval and after strong Trump criticisms), security clearance threatened
Leading Russia probe
Peter Strzok (as top FBI counterintelligence official): Fired for issues unrelated to Russia probe, security clearance threatened
Robert S. Mueller III (as special counsel): Threatened with firing, which Trump reportedly attempted twice
John Brennan: Security clearance revoked
Mike Pompeo: Trump ally who later became secretary of state
Sessions vows to “vigorously” prosecute makers of 3D-printed guns
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday warned that the Justice Department will “vigorously enforce” the federal prohibition of producing undetectable 3D-printed firearms “to the fullest extent.”
“We will not stand for the evasion, especially the flaunting, of current law and will take action to ensure that individuals who violate the law by making plastic firearms and rendering them undetectable, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.”
— Sessions said in a statement
The backdrop: This stern caution comes a day after Sessions’ own department asked a federal court to lift an injunction that blocks the public from downloading the blueprints. Almost a dozen states, led by Washington, have sued the State Department for allowing a pro-gun group to publish the files online, arguing it’s a threat to public safety and that terrorists could use undetectable plastic weapons to evade detection.
President Trump had expressed skepticism over 3D-printed guns, which had prompted widespread debate and outrage. “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!” Trump tweeted in July.
A new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll this week found that eight out of 10 Americans say they believe 3D-printed gun blueprints should not be available online, a rare consensus on gun policy that cuts across party and ideological lines.
Children poisoned by lead on U.S. Army bases as hazards go ignored
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Army Colonel J. Cale Brown put his life on the line in two tours of duty in Afghanistan, earning a pair of Bronze Stars for his service. In between those deployments, Brown received orders to report to Fort Benning, the sprawling Georgia base that proudly describes itself as the century-old home of the U.S. infantry. He was pleased. His wife, Darlena, was pregnant with their second child, and the Browns owned a home in the area. Their 10-month-old son, John Cale Jr, was a precocious baby, babbling a dozen words and exploring solid foods. Cale’s duties as a battalion commander required him to live on base. So instead of moving into their own house, in 2011 the Browns rented a place inside Fort Benning. The 80-year-old white stucco home had hosted generations of officers. Like most family housing on U.S. bases today, the home wasn’t owned and operated by the military. It was managed by Villages of Benning, a partnership between two private companies and the U.S. Army, whose website beckons families to “enjoy the luxuries of on-post living.” The symptoms began suddenly. At 18 months, JC would awake screaming. He began refusing food, stopped responding to his name and lost most of his words. “He was disappearing into an isolated brain,” Darlena recalls. For nearly a year, doctors probed: Was it colic? Autism? Ear infections? Then, in late 2012, came a call from JC’s pediatrician: He had high levels of lead in his blood. When Darlena told Villages of Benning of his poisoning, contractors ordered home testing. The results: At least 113 spots in the home had lead paint, including several peeling or crumbling patches, requiring $26,150 in lead abatement. Villages of Benning moved the Browns into another old house next door. The heavy metal had stunted JC’s brain, medical records reviewed by Reuters show. At age two, he was diagnosed with a developmental disorder caused by lead. Now eight, JC has undergone years of costly therapy. He excels at reading and swimming, but still struggles with speech, hyperactivity and social interactions. More:
$92M is new estimate for Trump military parade; big increase
WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. official says the Veterans Day military parade ordered up by President Donald Trump would cost about $92 million — more than three times the maximum initial estimate.
The official — who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss plans that haven’t been released yet — says about $50 million would cover Pentagon costs for equipment, personnel and other support for the November parade in Washington. The remainder would be borne by other agencies and would include security costs. Details are not final and haven’t been approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The White House budget office earlier estimated to Congress the parade would cost between $10 million and $30 million. Trump decided he wanted the parade after he attended France’s Bastille Day celebration in Paris last year.
Trump’s military parade delayed until 2019
The controversial military parade ordered by President Donald Trump originally scheduled for Veterans Day will be delayed until 2019, the Pentagon announced Thursday night. The Defense Department, which initially planned the parade for November to coincide with Veterans Day weekend and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, did not give a reason for the abrupt change of plan, simply issuing a statement that said it has “agreed to explore opportunities in 2019.” The announcement came only hours after a report by CNBC that the estimated cost of the parade is now as much as $92 million — much more than previous estimates of $12 million to $30 million. Trump originally asked for the military to organize such an event after seeing similar demonstrations on Bastille Day in France, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the pomp and circumstance as reminiscent of authoritarian regimes.
The parade is expected to include marching troops from different branches as well as a “heavy air component” of modern and historic war planes, the Pentagon said in March. But it will not include some of the heaviest military hardware like tanks to avoid damaging roads between the White House and the Capitol like the last one did in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump cancels military parade, blaming DC for cost
President Trump on Friday said that he was canceling plans for a military parade, blaming a $92 million price tag and local politicians in Washington, D.C. The cost of the parade had appeared to be escalating, with reports on Thursday estimating it would be $80 million more than previously estimated at a time of rising debt. Trump said “local politicians” in D.C. were responsible for the cost in announcing the cancelation, thought he offered no specific evidence. “The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it. Never let someone hold you up! I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th,” Trump wrote. “Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN,” he added. “Now we can buy some more jet fighters!”
U.S. Sues Operators Of Pirate Texas Station Known As ‘Alex Jones Radio’
The U.S. government says the operators of a station considered the “flagship” radio outlet for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay a $15,000 FCC penalty for broadcasting without a license. The station’s operators have rejected the demand and accuse the Federal Communications Commission of “trying to run a bluff.” To collect the debt, the Justice Department recently filed a civil suit against Walter Olenick and M. Rae Nadler-Olenick, demanding the married couple pay the FCC’s penalty “for willful and repeated violation” of U.S. law. They’re accused of operating a pirate radio station; Texas Liberty Radio has been unlicensed at least since 2013, according to the FCC. On its website, Texas Liberty Radio says it stopped broadcasting when it lost tower access in December 2017. But for years, the Olenicks have been fighting the FCC’s attempt to enforce federal laws, insisting the agency doesn’t have any power over them. Texas Liberty Radio is the “Austin flagship” for Jones, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The Associated Press and Inside Radio also referred to it as the flagship — raising the ire of one of the station’s hosts, Danny Sessom, who said late Wednesday night that TXLR only rebroadcasts Jones’ radio show. Calling it anything else, he said, was “actual fake news.” But in Austin, the 90.1 FM frequency has long been associated with Jones. When the FCC first penalized the Olenicks in 2014, The Austin Chronicle noted that 90.1 “has aired New World Order warnings for more than a decade, earning it the nickname ‘Alex Jones Radio.’ “In a string of correspondence with the FCC, the Olenicks dismissed the agency’s claims against them as preposterous and unfounded, saying in essence that they never agreed to be regulated by the U.S. government. More:
DOJ Sues Ivanka’s Ex-Business Partner for Massive Fraud
he Justice Department is suing a friend and former business partner of Ivanka Trump for his alleged role in schemes to defraud the federal government out of millions of dollars in tax liabilities on his father’s estate. Filed last month and reported here for the first time, the suit follows an August 2017 POLITICO investigation of alleged financial wrongdoing by New York businessman Moshe Lax and glaring irregularities in the Internal Revenue Service’s handling of a $27 million lien on his father’s estate.
The suit, which seeks more than $60 million in unpaid tax liabilities, was brought in the Southern District of New York by lawyers in the Justice Department’s tax division. It alleges that Lax, his sister Zlaty Schwartz, and his late father, Chaim Lax, engaged in a series of complex “sham transactions” designed to fraudulently evade tax liability.The government alleges the family members undertook 10 separate schemes “designed to hide the Lax family assets from the IRS and other creditors and make it appear as though the Estate was insolvent.” At a time when Democrats are working to make corruption a midterm campaign issue and a jury deliberates over whether to convict President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager for tax fraud, the suit threatens to further the perception that the Trump family and their closest associates operate in a corrupt milieu. Though the complaint does not mention Trump or accuse her of wrongdoing, Madison Avenue Diamonds, the business that Trump helped run for years under the name Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, figures prominently in the government’s case. More:
Melania Trump, a Mysterious First Lady, Weathers a Chaotic White House
WASHINGTON — Hours after Melania Trump moved into the White House in June of last year, she peered out a window and took in a stunning view of the Washington Monument: “Looking forward to the memories we’ll make in our new home!” the first lady cheerily wrote on Twitter in a snapshot of the tableau. But Mrs. Trump understood even then that her efforts to forge her own role would be second-guessed and scrutinized at every turn, including by her spouse. Mrs. Trump, a former fashion model who prefers clean, modern lines, had chosen some furniture for the White House residence in the months before she joined her husband in Washington. Yet in her absence, President Trump — whose tastes veer toward the gilded, triumphal style of Louis XIV — replaced her choices with several pieces he liked better. One of two people familiar with the episode cited it as an example of Mr. Trump’s tendency not to relent on even the smallest requests from his wife. A little more than a year later, Mrs. Trump remains an intensely private first lady still adjusting to the demands of a new life. She has few friends in Washington, keeps a light public schedule and when not watching over her 12-year-old son, Barron, returns home to New York — at least once per month, two people close to her say — for meetings and to visit a small circle of associates, including her sister and her hairstylist. More:
FCC chair says White House lawyer asked about status of Sinclair deal
The White House’s top lawyer made contact with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to inquire about its review of the purchase of Tribune Media stations by the conservative broadcaster Sinclair, Pai told a Senate committee on Thursday.
Why it matters: The FCC — and merger reviews generally — are supposed to be independent from the White House. Pai explained, “no one has called from the White House to express a view. We received one status inquiry.”
The details: Pai said he spoke with McGahn on July 16 or July 17. On July 16, Pai expressed “serious concerns” about the deal and moved to send parts of the transaction to an administrative law judge in a move that can prove fatal for a merger. Tribune has since dropped out of the deal and is suing Sinclair.
President Trump criticized Pai over his decision on the deal in a tweet on July 24.
Walmart And Others Offer Workers Payday Loan Alternative
Even in a strong economy, many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Forty percent don’t have $400 to cover an emergency expense, such as a car repair. And many working-class people turn to payday loans or other costly ways to borrow money. But more companies are stepping in to help their workers with a much cheaper way to get some emergency cash. Startup companies that offer better options for workers are partnering with all kinds of businesses — from giants like Walmart to little fried chicken restaurants.
“This is where it all happens; this is kitchen here,” says cook Keith Brown as he walks past the ovens and big bowls of flour at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken in Richmond, Va. He and the crew are gearing up for the lunchtime rush. The restaurant owner, Henry Loving, noticed over the years that many of his workers here were getting burned. Not with fry oil, but by high-cost loans they would get stuck in. “You know, a lot of times the folks that I have working for me are tight on money and they’ll go out and do payday loans or something like that,” says Loving. “And by the time I get wind of it, it’s too late and they’re in all kinds of extra hard trouble trying to get that paid off.” More:
Saban, Bama seek title with old challenges, new faces
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama and Nick Saban begin the quest for their sixth national title as college football’s ultimate power couple with many of the same old challenges — and lots of new faces.
The Crimson Tide must replace a bounty of NFL talent, especially on defense, like usual. What’s new: six assistant coaches, both coordinators, pretty much the entire secondary and maybe the starting quarterback. The quarterback battle between 28-game starter Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa has hogged the headlines, overshadowing the fact that eight members of the nation’s top defense were drafted. Gone are the starting secondary, including All-American Minkah Fitzpatrick , and a top reserve.
“That’s probably the least amount of returning experienced players that we’ve ever had,” Saban said.
Nonetheless, Alabama faces its typical expectations of contending for Southeastern Conference and national titles and keeping a perfect string of four playoff berths intact. The Tide has won five national championships in the past nine years and is widely considered the favorite to win No. 6 next January. Saban, who also won a title at LSU, and Bear Bryant are the only major college coaches to win six national championships. Now, the fit-and-trim 66-year-old is flush with an eight-year, $74 million contract and showing no signs of slowing down. Nor is his program. Veterans like tailback Damien Harris already are acquainted with the challenges of trying to repeat as national champs. The Tide fell just short of pulling that feat off in 2016. “The mindset going into this season is that we know our success isn’t going to be inherited,” Harris said. “Anything we accomplish as a team this season is not going to come from the fact that we won a national championship last year. “If anything, it is just going to make it that much harder. We know that winning a national championship puts a target on your back.”
Sex abuse in Alabama included in report on priests in Pennsylvania
A priest from Pennsylvania sexually abused two boys on a trip to Mobile in the 1980s and was charged in 1990, according to a Pennsylvania grand jury report this week that revealed details of sexual abuse by 301 priests. The report mentions several priests who had connections to Alabama. Father Gary L. Ketcham, also referred to in some documents as Ketchum, was accused of drunkenly molesting two boys while visiting friends in Mobile, the Diocese of Erie learned sometime prior to March 1989. Ketcham was sent to therapy when the diocese found out about the Mobile incident, and was housed at the diocese-owned treatment facility called the Ecclesia Center, the report said. In September 1989, the diocese loaned Ketcham $5,000 for attorney fees, the first of several loans to Ketcham. The grand jury found a promissory note to Ketcham from the diocese in which they pledged to front him $25,000 for lawyer fees and bond. The director of clergy personnel wrote, “Don’t worry… you’re good for it.” Ketcham pleaded guilty to both felony counts and was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine, according to the grand jury report.
In 2002, a laicization process was started to formally remove Ketcham from the church. Ketcham was laicized in 2004. The grand jury report, released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania attorney general, detailed sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania and a cover-up by church leaders over several decades. The investigation documented 301 priests who sexually abused children while serving in active ministry for the church. The report included accounts of more than 1,000 sexually abused youth. Alabama was also mentioned in the case of Father Gregory P. Furjanic, a defrocked priest who later attempted to obtain credentials as a Lutheran minister in Mobile and St. Petersburg, Fla. In 2005, Lutheran Social Services in St. Petersburg, Fla., contacted the Diocese of Erie to investigate Furjanic, who had his priestly authority removed in 1996 after allegations of sexual abuse. He represented himself as a clergy member associated with Lutheran ministry and had the title “Reverend” on his business cards. More:
Federal appeals court reverses decision involving Jefferson County bankruptcy case
A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court’s ruling that had allowed a legal challenge by residents of Jefferson County’s bankruptcy settlement to go forward. An 11th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion issued Thursday ruled the district court’s order is reversed, and ordered for the “dismissal of the ratepayers’ appeal from the plan confirmed by the bankruptcy court.” Their ruling came nearly four years after U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Blackburn refused to toss out a lawsuit by a group of sewer customers who wanted to see the county’s bankruptcy exit plan unraveled. “We note, in concluding, that no party has so far asked the bankruptcy court to exercise its jurisdiction to force Jefferson County to adjust its sewer rates according to the provisions of the confirmed plan. We therefore express no view on whether the ratepayers (or anyone else) will be able to mount a challenge to aspects of the plan in the future should the bankruptcy court in fact purport to exercise its jurisdiction to compel an increase in rates in compliance with the plan,” the appeals court’s ruling stated. On Dec. 3, 2013, Jefferson County exited bankruptcy after completing the refinancing of its sewer debt. That debt was the centerpiece of the county’s plan for exiting its $4.23 billion bankruptcy. A group made up mostly of local elected officials appealed the bankruptcy judge’s decision to approve the county’s bankruptcy plan, because they said it would unreasonably raise rates for sewer customers for 40 years to come. County officials asked Blackburn to dismiss that appeal, stating the claims were moot since the exit plan had already been consummated. In September 2014, the judge ruled that the ratepayers could continue their appeal and said consummation of the plan didn’t make that appeal entirely moot. “The fact that the (bankruptcy) Confirmation Order has taken effect – the new sewer warrants have issued and the old sewer warrants have been retired – does not extinguish the controversy, although it may limit the scope of relief available” to sewer customers, Blackburn wrote in her order. County Commissioner David Carrington said Thursday he was pleased, but not surprised at the appeal’s court’s ruling. “As reported in times past, the County was always confident in our Chapter 9 Plan of Adjustment,” he said. More:
Jay Roberson resigns from Birmingham City Council
Birmingham City Council President Pro Tem Jay Roberson is resigning from his post effective Sept. 10.
Roberson made the announcement today at Lawson State Community College. Roberson said he is stepping down because his wife, Niva, received a promotion and “dream job” with Alabaster City Schools. He didn’t release what job his wife received. Alabama City Schools hasn’t responded to a request for information on Niva Roberson’s employment. “To perform her duties in this role, we will be moving to the neighboring city of Alabaster as a family,” Roberson said. “My decision to step down makes today one that is filled with emotion.” “I am very proud of the record we have established,” he added. “Even more, I am proud that we established our record of success scandal free.” Roberson has served District 7 on the council since 2009. At the podium today, Roberson was surrounded by his wife, two sisters and his parents, James and Linda. Roberson was also supported by his colleagues on the council, John Hilliard, Hunter Williams, Sheila Tyson and Council President Valerie Abbott. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and former Mayor William Bell also attended the press conference. “It is a big loss for the council — a big loss of experience,” Abbott told AL.com of Roberson’s resignation. More:
Revoke my security clearance, too, Mr. President
William H. McRaven, a retired Navy admiral, was commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014. He oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Dear Mr. President:
Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him. Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency. Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs. A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself. Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.
Alabama Dem leader Joe Reed on Doug Jones’ failed power move: “George Wallace tried it, too”
This is an opinion column.
Joe L. Reed has seen the power move before; he didn’t like it then, either. It was 1974 and the perpetrator was none other than George Wallace, then in his second stint as Alabama’s Governor. Wallace’s Democrats were the strongest party in the state but that was changing fast as the national party increasingly embraced a civil rights agenda driven largely by protests, actions, and crimes that took place in Alabama. That strategy was, of course, anathema to Wallace’s “state’s rights” (read: segregationist) faction of the Alabama party, and the group tried one last time to avert outright extinction. Eight years earlier, Robert Vance‘s election as state party chair had come in the wake of the passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and was the first significant manifestation of the state Democratic party’s transition from the party of white segregationists to a more inclusive party.
Reed, the long-time head of the Alabama Democratic Caucus–the state party’s black caucus–recalls Wallace, then paralyzed from the waist down due to an assassination attempt two years prior, rolling his wheelchair onto the floor in the room at the prestigious Parliament House in Birmingham in 1974 where the Democratic Executive Committee was holding elections. “There was a big battle,” Reed said. “Governor Wallace came on the floor where the delegates were and nominated [Florence attorney and former State Senator] Bert Haltom to run against Vance. The delegates rejected it and reaffirmed our support for chairman Robert Vance [by a 66-51 vote]. “The same thing,” Reed said, “happen this weekend.” Reed, who turns 80 in November, was talking about fresh-off-the-ballot Sen. Doug Jones’ failed–and somewhat embarrassing–effort last Saturday to boot current party chair Nancy Worley and replace her with Montgomery attorney and lobbyist Peck Fox. Like Wallace, Jones came before the Democratic Executive Committee–this time the site was the Davis Theater for the Performing Arts in Montgomery–and nominated an opponent to run against the sitting chair. “This party needs to build,” Jones told committee members. “We need change. And the only way to get change is to have change.” It was a pure power move, played with bravado–and a little bit of nerve. And, like Wallace’s, it went pfft. “Our faction stuck together—like glue,” Reed said. “All over the state.” Although the 101-89 vote for Worley was face-saving close, it was still a very high-profile blow to the state’s most visible Democrat. More:
America’s Founding Fathers, after breaking free from monarchical subjugation, were determined to construct a government of checks and balances on absolute concentrated power. So they created a federal system that differentiated between state and national control, as well as three branches of government with distinct powers and responsibilities that had to answer to one another. But, not satisfied that that was enough, they added 10 amendments to the Constitution. And in the very first of those amendments, they established what has become an insurance policy for the continued health of the republic: a free press. As a working journalist, I know I have a stake in this concept. But as a grandfather who wants to see his grandchildren live in a country at least as free as the one I have enjoyed, a free press is even more relevant now than ever. The role of the press is to ask hard questions and refuse to be deterred even when someone powerful claims, “Nothing to see here.” At first glance, it might seem as if the press is a destabilizing force: It can undermine the credibility of our elected officials and ultimately our confidence in government. It can drive down stock prices and embolden our nation’s critics and enemies. It can uncover inconvenient truths and stir divisions within our society. But our Founders understood that long-term accountability is more important than short-term stability. Where would America be without the muckrakers of the progressive era, like Ida Tarbell, who uncovered the perfidy and immorality of the Standard Oil monopoly under John D. Rockefeller; without The New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the lies around the Vietnam War; without the dogged work of The Boston Globe in documenting sexual abuse within the Catholic Church? Because of the press, powerful institutions were held accountable for their actions, and we became a stronger nation. The institution of a free press in America is presently in a state of crisis greater than I have ever seen in my lifetime, and perhaps in any moment in this nation’s history. The winds of instability howl from many directions: a sustained attack on press freedom from those in political power, crumbling business models, rapidly changing technologies, and some self-inflicted wounds. This is a test, not only for those of us who work in journalism, but also for the nation as a whole. More:
When Adolf Hitler came to power, after the Nazis had shut down all of Germany’s independent newspapers and magazines and ended press freedom in the country, Hermann Ullstein, a member of a highly regarded German publishing family, fled to New York and wrote a penetrating memoir of the rise and fall of his family’s media empire. His father, Leopold Ullstein, a Jewish newspaper dealer, had founded Ullstein Verlag, the family publishing house, which at its pre-Nazi peak owned some of Germany’s most important publications, including the Vossische Zeitung newspaper. But when Hitler stole their press holdings, Hermann Ullstein and other family members fled, and by World War II, the Ullstein presses were being used to print Das Reich, a newspaper created by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. From his refuge in New York, Hermann Ullstein wrote critically of the failure of the German press to confront Hitler more aggressively when it still had a chance — before he came to power. In his 1943 book, Ullstein chastised the mainstream press in Germany for being too cautious in the pre-Nazi years, especially in comparison to the aggressive right-wing media that was rising during the late 1920s and boosting Hitler’s political fortunes. He lamented the weak response of “the loyal press,” his phrase for the pre-Nazi mainstream press “whose efforts were devoted to democracy, and whose failure was to a large extent due to mildness of language, to the tired and cautious spirit in which they fought.” Hermann Ullstein’s criticism of the mainstream press of the pre-Nazi era would sound eerily familiar to anyone following the American media today as it tries to confront Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly castigated the American press as “the enemy of the people” and has brought his political supporters to such a crazed pitch that many of them now consider journalists to be traitors. Some of Trump’s backers even seem to think that physical attacks on reporters are acceptable. Trump uses his Twitter account to maliciously attack individual reporters, and journalists covering Trump’s dark and fevered rallies are now being forced to hire security personnel to protect themselves from the crowds. Trump seeks to discredit the mainstream press at every turn, while granting preferential access to news organizations that traffic in right-wing propaganda and conspiracy theories. More:
STEEL COUNTRY ON EDGE — Greetings from western Pennsylvania where MM is on a reporting trip with POLITICO producer Jenny Ament for a podcast and story coming next week on the impact of President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
We won’t spoil it here but just offer a little taste. The tariffs are largely popular with steel makers but even some of the workers we spoke with expressed distrust of whether Trump really has their long-term best interests at heart. And they are not all sold on the idea that the tariffs will really bring American steel production anywhere near back to its glory days.
And workers and managers who buy steel are flat out panicked by the tariffs as they see their costs rising and wonder whether the tariffs will ultimately cost them their solid, well-paying jobs. This is still largely Trump country outside the metro-Pittsburgh area. But the president’s vulnerabilities – and the wider danger to Republicans in November – are on full display here. Stay tuned and sign up here for the POLITICO Money pod so you don’t miss it.
KUDLOW TALKS UP CHINA TALKS — One thing we heard over and over in Pa. was that Trump should focus more directly on China when it comes to dumping practices and not use such broad tariffs. Well, at least NEC director Larry Kudlow says talks are finally back on again with the Chinese.
From his Fox News interview: “We’re making great headway in Europe, making headway in Mexico. We’ve got a Chinese delegation coming next week, kind of second-level delegation. Maybe they’ll reopen those talks. I particularly am optimistic about Europe and Mexico.”
Freedom Partners Executive Vice President Nathan Nascimento on the China news: “Tariffs are nothing short of a tax on American businesses and consumers. It is a self-destructive policy threatening to undermine the tremendous growth our economy experienced in the past two years. …
“We’re encouraged by news that leaders from Beijing and Washington will meet this month to re-start a trade dialogue. Ultimately, that is a better path to create more American jobs and achieve tariff-free trade than a trade war.”
SPEAKING OF TARIFFS — Another dark side emerges in the exemption application process which infers great power on DC officials and tends to deepen rather than drain the swamp.
Alison Acosta Winters in National Review: “What’s less reported, though increasingly problematic, is that [tariff] proliferation has empowered government bureaucrats ill-suited to the task to pick industry winners and losers. …
“Career employees at the Department of Commerce generally have no industry expertise to balance the arguments, yet they must judge the petitions as if they did. Already, more than 20,000 exemption requests have been filed with the government. They have overwhelmed the feds, who are falling short of their initial goal of a 90-day response.” Read more.
FIRST LOOK: FIN TECH REPORT— Per release going out Friday from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.): “While many FinTech companies claim their algorithms protect against discrimination, many respondents failed to demonstrate how they protect consumers from unintentional discrimination. It is imperative that automated lending algorithms avoid geographical and race-based biases.
“Companies mentioned in this investigation include LendUp, Fora Financial, Biz2Credit, Kabbage, LendingClub, and OnDeck Capital, Inc. It should be noted that LendUp is in fact a consumer lending company, however they agreed to participate in this investigation.”
“The initial findings are clear as day. We need to further understand how lenders may be intentionally or unintentionally offering higher interest rates to minorities and underserved communities, and work to implement industry-wide best practices” said Congressman Cleaver.” Read more.
CAMP KOTOK REPORT — David Kotok shared the results of his survey of close to 30 top econ watchers who attended this year’s Camp Kotok fishing/wonk weekend at Leen’s lodge in Maine. The median forecast for the jobless rate in June of 2019: 3.9 percent. The median forecast for GDP growth from Q2 2018 to Q2 2019: 2.73 percent.
TRUMP VS NEW YORK — POLITICO’s Annie Karni: “Even in the West Wing, all politics is local. … Trump — raised in Queens, made in Manhattan — in the past week is finding his latest targets back home, turning New York political leaders into liberal punching bags that offer him familiar and useful foils ahead of the midterm elections.
“It’s an old political playbook — attack elite, liberal New York, and the heartland loves you — but it’s also personal for Trump, whose relationships with some of New York’s political leaders go back generations. … For a president whose actions are often driven by knee-jerk responses to criticism, rather than any planned political strategy, running against New York is seen as a mix of opportunity, muscle memory and method.” Read more.
DRIVING THE DAY— President Trump fundraisers in the Hamptons before heading to Bedminster … Index of Leading Indicators at 10:00 a.m. expected to rise 0.4 percent … Univ. of Michigan Consumer Sentiment at 10:00 a.m. expected to be flat at 97.9 …
PARADE … DELAYED — POLITICO’s Jacqueline Klimas: “The controversial military parade ordered by … Trump originally scheduled for Veterans Day will be delayed until 2019, the Pentagon announced Thursday night.
“The Defense Department, which first planned the parade for November to coincide with Veterans Day weekend and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, did not give a reason for abrupt change of plan, simply issuing a statement that said it has ‘agreed to explore opportunities in 2019.’
“The announcement came only hours after a report by CNBC that the estimated cost of the parade is now as much as $92 million — far more than previous estimates of between $12 million and $30 million.” Read more.
FIRING BACK AT BANKS — Better Markets Dennis Kelleher emails re Victoria’s item Thursday on big banks arguing to lower their special capital surcharge: “I almost hurt myself laughing at the megabanks’ argument that they need to lower their already inadequate capital levels due to ‘international competitiveness.’ How stupid do they think regulators at the Fed and elsewhere are?
“While they might be able to show that their capital levels are a tiny bit higher than some global banks, the evidence shows they are killing their competition everywhere around the world, as even the quickest visit to any global capital will quickly reveal.
NEW COMPLAINT AGAINST ROSS — POLITICO’s Patrick Temple-West: “Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross should be investigated for potentially violating federal conflict of interest laws for meeting with the executives heading firms tied to his financial holdings, a Washington watchdog group said in a complaint today. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also called for the Justice Department to investigate whether Ross made false statements on his financial disclosures.” Read more
MNUCHIN: WE COULD HIT TURKEY HARDER — POLITICO’s Caitlin Oprysko: “The United States is prepared to take more action against the Turkish government if it does not move to release a detained American pastor, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said …
“At a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Mnuchin noted recent sanctions imposed on members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration over its refusal to release Rev. Andrew Brunson and added that ‘we have more that we’re planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,’ according to a pool report. Mnuchin didn’t elaborate.” Read more.
TURKEY TRIES TO RE-WRITE THE PLAYBOOK — Mohamed El-Erian: “Whether by accident or design, Turkey is trying to rewrite the chapter on crisis management in the emerging-market playbook. Rather than opting for interest-rate hikes and an external funding anchor to support domestic policy adjustments, the government has adopted a mix of less direct and more partial measures – and this at a time when Turkey is in the midst of an escalating tariff tit-for-tat with the United States” Read more.
STOCKS MARCH HIGHER — AP’s Marley Jay: “U.S. stocks jumped Thursday as China and the U.S. said they will hold their first trade discussions in months, a potential sign of progress toward ending their trade war. China will send a trade envoy to Washington later this month in a new attempt to end the trade dispute before it causes major damage to the global economy. The two sides haven’t talked since early June. Energy and metals prices and shares of industrial companies turned higher.
“Walmart soared after reporting its strongest growth in sales in more than a decade. Other companies that make and sell basic necessities also rose. … Other retailers and consumer goods companies also edged higher. Target added 1.7 percent to $82.07 and Procter & Gamble rose 1.7 percent to $83.69 while McDonald’s climbed 1.2 percent to $161.73. Banks rallied as interest rates increased. Bond prices turned lower again. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.87 percent from 2.85 percent.” Read more.
COULD TURKEY COME OUT STRONGER THAN EVER? — Reuters: “Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak hosted a conference call with global investors on Thursday in a bid to reassure them that policymakers are able to tackle the worst currency crisis the country has suffered since 2001.
“Some 3,000 investors and economists had registered for the call. [Here] are reactions from fund managers and analysts who listened to the call. ‘He was very orthodox in what he said, he said all the right things, but it’s one thing saying them and another thing doing them,’ said Sailesh Lad, AXA Investment Managers.” Read more.
LIRA UNDER PRESSURE — FT’s Laura Pitel, Andrew England, Jonathan Wheatley and Roger Blitz: “The Turkish lira came under fresh pressure on Thursday as the U.S. warned that new sanctions would be imposed on Turkey if a detained American evangelical pastor was not released.
“The embattled currency had been steadily strengthening in recent days after steps to clamp down on short selling and reassurances from the government that it would not impose capital controls.” Read more.
WHY YUAN FALL HASN’T STOPPED STOCKS — WSJ’s James Mackintosh: “Three years ago, a drop of less than 3 percent in the yuan against the dollar was enough to create panic among investors world-wide. The S&P 500 fell more than 10 percent within a few days, the usual definition of a correction, and global stocks plummeted. The plunge was repeated at the end of 2015, with the same effect. Yet this year, a far bigger drop in the Chinese currency has been all but ignored by U.S. stocks.
“What gives? The answer is a reflection both of the relative strength of China and the U.S., and investors’ views of Chinese policy. But the yuan still poses a threat, even to investors who care little about China.” Read more.
A BLIP OR A BOOM? — AP’s Josh Boak and Christopher Rugaber: “Is the latest pickup in U.S. economic growth destined to slow in the years ahead as most analysts say? Or, as the Trump administration insists, is the economy on the cusp of an explosive boom that will reward Americans and defy those expectations?
“On Thursday … Trump’s chief economic adviser made his case for the boom. Calling mainstream predictions ‘pure nonsense,’ Larry Kudlow declared that the expansion — already the second-longest on record — is merely in its ‘early innings.’ ‘The single biggest event, be it political or otherwise, this year is an economic boom that most people thought would be impossible to generate,’ Kudlow said at a Cabinet meeting, speaking at the president’s request and looking directly at him. ‘Not a rise. Not a blip.’ ‘People may disagree with me,’ Kudlow continued, ‘but I’m saying this, we are just in the early stages.’” Read more.
THE SEC-MUSK DRAMA JUST KEEPS COMING — WSJ’s Dave Michaels, Emily Glazer and Tim Higgins: “Securities regulators began investigating last year whether Tesla Inc. misled investors about its Model 3 car production problems, according to people familiar with the matter.
“The [SEC] subpoenaed a parts supplier for the auto maker as part of the probe, one of the people said, well before the regulators began looking into Elon Musk’s tweet last week about taking the company private. Regulators have also subpoenaed Tesla’s directors seeking to learn what they knew about Mr. Musk’s plan to take Tesla private … Both issues are being handled by the SEC’s San Francisco office, one of the people said.” Read more.
The first crack at Musk could give top Tesla funds an edge — Reuters’ Ross Kerber: “Information about Elon Musk’s efforts to take Tesla Inc. private is scarce. But some small investors wonder if top funds have an edge. In a blog post on Monday, the Tesla chief executive said he would sound out some of his largest shareholders on the idea. The list could include T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Fidelity Investments, which each have had a good run with the stock.
“Some stockholders worry the meetings could yield details not available to smaller investors, a tension that is emerging more often as big funds own larger stakes in companies and stress their frequent talks with U.S. corporations. Some small investors say they do not expect a level informational playing field when it comes to Tesla, whose shares have been whipsawed by Musk’s unpredictable tweets.” Read more.
While we’re on the subject of Elon Musk — Bloomberg’s David Welch and Alex Barinka: “Goldman Sachs Group Inc. made millions of dollars helping Elon Musk bring Tesla Inc. to the public market. Now, it could stand to make even more advising the electric-car maker’s CEO on how to reverse that decision.
“When Musk tweeted late Monday he was ‘excited to work with’ advisers on his plan to take Tesla private, one of the first names he mentioned was Goldman Sachs. The relationship between the billionaire and the bank goes back to at least 2010, when Goldman Sachs led Tesla’s initial public offering. It’s also given Musk hundreds of millions of dollars in personal loans.” Read more.
It’s only been 10 days since the tweet heard around the world, but if you need a quick refresher of everything that’s happened, Bloomberg also has this timeline detailing the whole saga.
ABA ON THE CRA — ABA CEO Rob Nichols in the Hill: “[O]utdated rules, a lack of transparency and inconsistent examinations are preventing the Community Reinvestment Act from fully meeting that mission today. Instead, its regulations are holding back investment in the very communities the law is intended to serve, while imposing unnecessary compliance burdens on banks.” Read more.
TRUMP RIPPED BY FORMER COMMANDER — POLITICO’s Rebecca Morin: “The former commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, who also oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has a request for … Trump: revoke his security clearance.” Read more.
MINIMUM WAGE HIKE HITS ARKANSAS BALLOT — Via the Houston Chronicle: “[T]he secretary of state of Arkansas announced that an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour will appear on the November ballot. In the wake of new data showing wages have stagnated for middle-class families, Arkansas voters are set to join a growing national movement to bypass the broken political system and raise the minimum wage directly through ballot initiatives.” Read more.
TRUMP is going to the Hamptons today. He is attending a roundtable and luncheon in Southampton. At 2:30 p.m., Trump will fly from the Hamptons to New Jersey to spend the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster.
The House and Senate are out.