Gov: The President
At News in FiVe, we focus most of our attention on Congress.
Congress not only writes laws, but are your closest representation in government (and your representative will have an office not far from your home).
However, the actions of the president also greatly affect you. In this section we report significant events regarding the president.
Related IssuesPresident: Donald Trump
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NYT: Trump fortune built on fraud, cost gov't half billion
|2018-Oct-15||By: Rob Dennis|
President Donald Trump's father made him wealthy, and Trump helped his parents defraud the U.S. government out of nearly a half-billion dollars, according to a New York Times investigation based on tax returns and financial records.
The Times investigation documented almost 300 streams of revenue that Trump's father - Fred Trump - created to enrich Trump. According to the report...
The findings contradict Trump's decades-long claims to be a self-made businessman, building his real-estate empire with only a $1 million loan from his father. Aside from the inherited millions, Fred Trump made his son a salaried employee, property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He paid for Trump's car, employees, offices and other expenses. He also bailed out Trump's business failures.
"The reporting makes clear that in every era of Mr. Trump's life, his finances were deeply intertwined with, and dependent on, his father's wealth," the Times wrote.
It's unlikely that Trump would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution because of statutes of limitations. There is no time limit, however, on civil fines for tax fraud.
For more, read the New York Times investigation.
Former Trump campaign head pleads guilty, will cooperate
|2018-Sep-14||By: Rob Dennis|
President Donald Trump's former campaign chair has pleaded guilty to two felonies and will cooperate with the special counsel investigating Russia's efforts to help Trump win the 2016 election.
Paul Manafort, who was part of the Trump campaign for six months in 2016, already had been convicted of eight financial crimes. He faced another trial for money laundering and other charges, as well as a potential re-trial for the 10 charges a jury could not decide on. The charges stem from Manafort's decade-long work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
As part of this plea deal, Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy against the United States, covering offenses ranging from money laundering to witness tampering. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Manafort's cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller could provide details about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians tied to the Kremlin, including:
Four other Trump aides have pleaded guilty to various charges and agreed to cooperate with Mueller:
For more, read the Washington Post story.
Click here to read Manafort's plea agreement
Click here to read the charges against Manafort
Click here to read the criminal information against Manafort
Click here to view the supporting exhibits.
Trump's former campaign manager convicted
|2018-Aug-21||By: Rob Dennis|
President Donald Trump's former campaign manager has been convicted of eight financial crimes in a federal court.
Paul Manafort was found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign financial account. The most serious of these charges carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
The case was brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Although the charges did not directly address Russian collusion, they stem from Manafort's work for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.
The jury deadlocked on 10 other counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges. One of the jurors later said that all jurors except one felt Manafort should have been convicted on all counts. Prosecutors have the option to retry him on those charges.
While the full jury couldn't agree on those 10 counts, the charges still could be used to help determine the length of Manafort's sentence.
Manafort faces a second criminal trial next month in Washington, D.C., on charges of conspiracy to launder money, failure to register as a foreign agent, and obstruction of justice.
For more, read the New York Times story.
Trump's former lawyer pleads guilty, implicates president in felonies
|2018-Aug-21||By: Rob Dennis|
Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to illegally pay money to cover up for affairs Trump had, in order to influence the 2016 presidential election, the attorney testified in court.
Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney until May, implicated Trump while pleading guilty to eight felonies in federal court.
Two of the counts related to the payments to Stephanie Clifford (a porn actress who uses the name Stormy Daniels) and Karen McDougal.
The payments would violate campaign finance laws if the money came from a corporation (in this case Trump's) and was used as part of his campaign.
"I participated in this conduct ... for the principal purpose of influencing the election," Cohen testified in court.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion and one charge of making false statements to a bank. He faces five years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, although that could be reduced in exchange for his cooperation with Robert Mueller - the special counsel investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
After Cohen appeared in court, his attorney Lanny Davis said Cohen has knowledge of interest to Mueller and is "more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows."
Trump's lawyer's company received millions in payments
|2018-May-08  (Updated: 2018-May-17)||By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman|
A shell company run by Donald Trump's attorney Michael Cohen has been used to receive millions of dollars from Fortune 500 companies that lobby the government.
The shell company - Essential Consultants LLC - also was used by Cohen to pay pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford $130,000 to stay silent about a sexual relationship she claims to have had with Trump. But financial documents have revealed much more money coming into the company than going out.
Cohen created the company a month before Trump was elected president. It received the money from that time through early 2018.
The financial records were provided by Michael Avenatti - Clifford's attorney - and verified by several news organizations.
Payments to Cohen's company included...
Cohen's company also received a $500,000 payment from Columbus Nova - a U.S. based company with deep ties to Russia.
How was this found out?
The information came from a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) filed by First Republic Bank in response to concern over the transactions. A Treasury Department official noticed two additional reports on Essential Consultants were missing from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database. He told The New Yorker he (likely illegally) released the document because he was concerned that it too would vanish.
For more, read the New York Times story.
Click here to view the document from Avenatti listing some of the financial transactions for Essential Consultants
For more on how the report was leaked, read the New Yorker story.
EPA head Pruitt faces multiple ethics investigations
|2018-Apr-09||By: Rob Dennis|
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is under investigation for alleged mishandling of taxpayer money and acceptance of perks, including a bargain condo rental tied to a lobbyist with business before the agency.
During his first months in Washington, D.C., Pruitt rented a condo from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist for $50 a night, only paying for the nights he stayed there. While Pruitt was renting the condo, the EPA approved a pipeline-expansion plan by one of the lobbyist's clients.
In addition, Pruitt:
Under Pruitt's leadership, the EPA used a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to give massive raises to two of Pruitt's closest aides, political appointees who had previously worked for him in Oklahoma. The provision is intended to be used to hire experts quickly. Pruitt denied all knowledge of the raises, and EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson claimed responsibility for them. The same provision was used to hire a former chemical industry lobbyist to run the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
For more, read the CNN story.
CFPB top salaries under Mulvaney soar
|2018-Apr-05  (Updated: 2018-Apr-21)||By: Barry Shatzman|
Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), requested in January that the CFBP receive no funding. He said the "reserve fund" the bureau had built up for overruns or emergencies should be used up before asking for more money.
He seems to be trying to speed up that process - hiring deputies and paying them salaries that exceed normal pay for their role. Five deputies he hired are being paid approximately $250,000 annually. Two of Mulvaney's hires were for positions that did not exist under previous director Richard Cordray, according the Associated Press.
That's about the same as the vice president. In Congress, only the House Speaker makes more than $200,000. Cabinet members make approximately $200,000.
Leandra English, who was chief of staff for Cordray, made less than $215,000. Kirsten Mork - English's successor under Mulvaney - makes about $45,000 more than that. English now is the deputy director, but the CFPB refused to disclose her current salary to the Associated Press.
In spite of the boosted payroll, the CFPB is doing much less for American consumers than it did under Cordray.
For more, read the Associated Press story.
Trump pardons sailor for nuclear sub photos
|2018-Mar-09  (Updated: 2018-Mar-15)||By: Rob Dennis|
President Donald Trump has pardoned a Navy sailor convicted of illegally retaining photos of a submarine's nuclear propulsion system.
Kristian Saucier, a machinist's mate aboard the USS Alexandria from 2007 to 2012, used his cell-phone camera to take six photos in 2009 while the nuclear submarine was docked at a Connecticut naval base. Saucier said he took the photos as mementos. The photos were deemed confidential, the lowest level of security classification.
After the FBI questioned Saucier about the images on the phone, which had been found in a landfill, he destroyed evidence related to the case.
Saucier, 31, pleaded guilty in May 2016 to unlawful retention of national defense information and obstruction of justice, and served 12 months in prison. His sentence ended in September.
Trump frequently referred to Saucier's case during the 2016 presidential campaign, claiming he had been punished for a lesser offense than Hillary Clinton, who mishandled classified information on a private email server when she was secretary of state.
Saucier's pardon was the second of Trump's presidency. He previously pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a political ally who was awaiting sentencing for violating a court order.
Dozens of Trump aides lose top-secret clearances
|2018-Feb-28||By: Rob Dennis|
More than 30 White House staffers, including President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, have been stripped of their top-secret clearances.
The staffers had never been approved for permanent clearances. They were provided interim clearances while their applications were being evaluated. They were downgraded to secret on Feb. 23 - when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly instituted a new policy forbidding temporary top-level clearances.
Kelly's policy change came after it emerged that Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who had access to some of the nation's most sensitive secrets, held an interim security clearance for more than a year despite allegations of spousal abuse. Porter resigned earlier in February.
Kushner, whose vast responsibility has included negotiating foreign trade deals and exploring a Middle East peace process, also held an interim clearance for more than a year. His ability to perform in these roles without a top-secret clearance will be impaired - if not rendered impossible.
Kushner's security problems
Kushner's problems obtaining a permanent clearance date to the beginning of the Trump presidency, when he failed to disclose more than 100 foreign contacts on his security clearance application.
Among those contacts were December 2016 meetings with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and the head of Russian state-controlled bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), Sergey Gorkov. VEB was placed under U.S. sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
A Russian spy ring operated out of the bank's Manhattan branch from 2012 to 2014, and a member of that ring met with Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in 2013. Gorkov, a graduate of the FSB Academy, was appointed head of VEB in 2016 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used to chair the bank himself.
Kushner also took part in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Trump opponent Hillary Clinton.
As a White House staffer, Kushner continued holding undisclosed meetings with foreign officials, the Washington Post reported. Officials in four countries - China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates - discussed ways to manipulate Kushner "by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience," the Post reported.
Other clearance problems among Trump staff members
As of November, 100 staffers in the Executive Office of the President still had interim clearances, including Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, CNN reported.
The remaining officials whose clearances were downgraded have not been named. They remain in the White House for now, but their duties requiring a top-secret clearance will be handed off to other staffers.
Six other White House staffers were fired in February after they failed an FBI background check.
RNC pays rent for Trump campaign - in Trump Tower
|2018-Feb-23||By: Barry Shatzman|
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is paying the rent for Donald Trump's re-election campaign - in a building Trump owns.
Rent payments to New York's Trump tower - and thus to Trump - come to $37,000 monthly.
The payments started about two weeks after the RNC stopped paying Donald Trump's personal legal fees related to the investigation of his possible involvement in Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The RNC also is paying $12,000 monthly to John Pence (Vice President Mike Pence's nephew) and $15,000 monthly to Trump's former bodyguard Keith Schiller.
In just the first half of 2017, Republican committees paid $1.3 million to Trump-owned businesses.
For more, read the CNBC story.
White House proposes eliminating civil rights agency
|2018-Feb-12||By: Barry Shatzman|
The Trump administration is proposing the elimination of an agency created to ease racial tensions and reduce hate crimes.
The Community Relations Service (CRS) was created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The administration's proposal would eliminate the agency's $15 million budget (and 54 jobs) and transfer the its functions to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division .
The difference could be more than administrative, however. The Community Relations Service operates as a mediator, whereas the Civil Rights Division is concerned with enforcement.
The White House proposal is only a proposal. Congress would be required to approve the elimination of the agency's budget.
For more, read the BuzzFeed News story.
Trump ordered Mueller fired. White House counsel refused
|2018-Jan-25||By: Rob Dennis|
President Donald Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June, just a month after Mueller had been appointed to oversee the Russia investigation, the New York Times reported.
Trump backed down after White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to obey the order and threatened to quit if the president insisted. The president can't directly fire Mueller. Only the deputy attorney general who appointed the special counsel can fire him, and only for cause.
Mueller was appointed after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May. He was appointed to conduct the investigation into the Russian government's interference in the 2016 presidential election, and its possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump said he fired Comey in part because of "this Russia thing."
Trump claimed Mueller had three "conflicts of interest" that justified his firing:
McGahn disagreed that these were valid reasons, and refused to call the Department of Justice to have Mueller fired.
Trump's legal fees being paid by campaign funds
|2017-Sep-19||By: Barry Shatzman|
If you donate to Donald Trump's re-election campaign, there's a chance he won't be using your money to buy more television ads. You might just be paying his personal legal bills.
The lawyers representing him in the probe of his possible involvement in Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election are being paid with campaign funds and by the Republican National Committee (RNC), Reuters reported.
Using the money this way is legal because Trump did not accept public financing for his campaign (neither did Hillary Clinton for hers). Candidates are allowed to use campaign funds to pay legal bills for issues arising from being a candidate or elected official. Typically the legal fees cover things such as election disputes.
Trump, however, is the first to use campaign money to pay legal fees for a criminal investigation, election law experts told Reuters.
For more, read the Reuters story.
Update 2017-Nov-17: The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee no longer are paying Trump's attorneys.
Trump pardons AZ sheriff convicted of ignoring judge
|2017-Aug-25||By: Barry Shatzman|
President Trump has pardoned an Arizona sheriff convicted of ignoring a federal judge's orders.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio had ordered Latinos be detained simply because they could not show legal status. A federal judge ruled that the practice involved racial profiling because it involved only Latinos - who were stopped for traffic violations at a much higher rate than other drivers - and ordered Arpaio to end the practice. Yet Arpaio continued the detentions for the next 1-1/2 years.
Lawsuits regarding brutality against detainees since Arpaio became sheriff in 1993 have cost Arizona taxpayers $140 million.
Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt. He had yet to be sentenced - nor had he used an opportunity to appeal - when Trump issued the pardon.
Trump had asked about rescuing Arpaio - who has been a long-time Trump supporter - from his legal situation even before he was convicted. Had Arpaio wanted to request a pardon, he would have been required to wait five years from the date he completed his sentence.
The two-paragraph statement from Trump did not provide the reason he pardoned Arpaio.
It is likely the Justice Department was not consulted between Arpaio's conviction and the time of the pardon.
Click here to read the White House statement on the pardon.
For more, read the Atlantic story.
For more on the oddities of this pardon, read Bob Bauer's Lawfare editorial.
Click here for a Phoenix New Times summary of Arpaio's acts.
Senate bills would make it hard for Trump to fire Mueller
|2017-Aug-03  (Updated: 2017-Aug-10)||By: Barry Shatzman|
Two bipartisan groups of senators have introduced bills that would make it harder for President Trump to fire the investigator hired to investigate him.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller was hired by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein soon after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. He was hired to investigate possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.
Trump has suggested that he would consider having Mueller fired if Mueller's investigation led to areas Trump does not approve of.
Trump cannot directly fire Mueller. That likely would need to be done by the attorney general. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, however, so it is unclear how a firing would take place.
The bills have yet to be considered by the Senate. Either one would need to pass both houses of Congress and then be signed by Trump in order to become law. Sen. Tom Carper, a sponsor of one of the bills, said they are mostly symbolic at this point - a way to let Trump know that Congress wants Mueller to be allowed to perform his investigation without outside influence.
In the same timeframe as these bills, 20 Republicans sent a letter to Sessions asking him to investigate "a plethora of matters" related to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and officials in the administration of then-President Barack Obama.
For more, read the Politico story.
The bills are S-1735 and S-1741.
Click here to read the letter from Republicans to Sessions asking him to investigate Clinton and members of the Obama administration.
Trump profits most from his properties that he visits
|2017-Jul-18  (Updated: 2018-Sep-15)||By: Barry Shatzman|
A federal judge has ordered the White House to disclose information about visitors to Mar-a-Lago - the Florida resort owned by President Donald Trump. The records must be made available by Sept. 8.
Trump has spent several weekends there since taking office and has conducted official U.S. business there. Aside from foreign leaders, it's not known who else has visited him there.
Trump has profited the most from his properties that he visits the most, according to financial disclosures he is required to file with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE).
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. They also have sued for information on visitors to Trump at the White House and Trump Tower - Trump's New York skyscraper that serves as his home and business headquarters.
Attorneys General sue Trump over business conflicts
|2017-Jun-12||By: Rob Dennis|
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit claiming President Donald Trump has violated the Constitution by refusing to divest himself from his businesses.
The foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibits federal officials from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments. The domestic emoluments clause bars the president from receiving any government compensation other than a salary.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, both Democrats, said in the complaint that Trump has violated both emoluments clauses through purchases, leases and other business dealings at Trump properties around the world.
Trump has refused to divest himself of his assets, instead moving them into a trust controlled by Allen Weisselberg - his chief financial officer - and two of Trump's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
The trust's purpose, it states, "is to hold assets for the benefit of Donald J. Trump." Trump can withdraw money at any time.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a separate lawsuit against Trump on the same grounds.
COVFEFE Act would make presidential tweets official records
|2017-Jun-12||By: Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Mike Quigley has introduced a bill that would classify social media posts by a president to be considered official presidential records.
President Trump frequently has issued public policy declarations over the social media platform Twitter. At times it is difficult to determine which posts are serious or which merely are Trump using social media as an outlet to vent.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said they should be taken as official statements.
Quigley states in a press release for the bill...
"President Trump's frequent, unfiltered use of his personal Twitter account as a means of official communication is unprecedented. If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference."
The bill is the Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically For Engagement (COVFEFE), named after a seemingly nonsensical word in a Twitter post by Trump.
For more, read The Hill story.
VA awards contract with no competition - and no price
|2017-Jun-05||By: Rob Dennis|
The Trump administration has picked a firm to modernize veterans' electronic health care records - without putting the contract out for bid or knowing how much it will cost.
Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin announced that the contract will go to Cerner Corp., which already has a $4.3 billion contract to overhaul the Department of Defense's (DoD) health care records system. The VA won't use the same system, but it will use Cerner's software at its core, Shulkin said. Cerner won the DoD contract in a two-year bidding process.
Federal contracts typically are subject to a competitive bidding process to lower costs and avoid conflicts of interest. However, agencies can waive that process, and Shulkin said he did so "because of the urgency and the critical nature of this decision."
This leaves the government with little leverage over the cost. It could choose to abandon the deal and start over, but that could delay the project more than a bidding process from the start would have.
The VA still must present its justification for awarding the contract without competition.
EPA removes climate change data from website
|2017-May-10||By: Barry Shatzman|
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed information related to climate change from its website.
To find the EPA's climate change section on their site, you need to go through the following path...
EPA.gov -> Environmental Topics -> Air -> (Air Pollutants) Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions -> Climate Change Home
The section now contains a simple message...
"Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt. If you're looking for an archived version of this page, you can find it on the January 19 snapshot."
Selecting the archived version will lead you to the old page (which no longer is being updated).
Comparison of EPA Climate Change web pages past and present
The EPA claims the full site will be available in the archive. However, there had been an accompanying student site with resources used by teachers as well as students. The EPA suggested those pages might not have been archived properly.
Criminal investigations slowed due to Trump security
|2017-Apr-06||By: Barry Shatzman|
The Secret Service is pulling agents off criminal investigations in order to help protect President Trump and his family, the New York Times has reported.
To pay for the protection, the Secret Service has requested an extra $60 million, according to the Washington Post.
For more, read the New York Times story.
Bill would require presidents to disclose visitors
|2017-Mar-23||By: Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Mike Quigley has introduced a bill that would require presidents to disclose the names of visitors to the White House. Presidents also would be required to provide a visitors' log for any other places they regularly conduct official U.S. business.
The only administration to voluntarily provide this information was the Obama administration.
The bill is the Make Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act. It forms the acronym MAR-A-LAGO. Mar-a-Lago is the name of the Florida resort owned by President Donald Trump where he has spent a significant amount of time conducting official U.S. business.
House vote shows who doesn't want Trump's tax returns
|2017-Feb-27  (Updated: 2017-Mar-05)||By: Barry Shatzman|
The House of Representatives voted to not compel President Trump to provide 10 years of tax returns.
The proposal by Rep. Bill Pascrell would have directed the House to request the returns, which would have been examined in a closed session of the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee then would have decided whether to have the full House review them.
Democrats requested a roll call vote in order to hold each representative accountable for their position. What they got instead - a roll call vote to table (avoid) the roll call vote on the request - painted the exact same picture. It just obscures the title because there is no mention of what the vote was for.
First Trump impact - the White House website
|2017-Jan-20||By: Barry Shatzman|
The first change of the Trump administration happened quickly - before the new president even finished his inauguration speech.
The White House website changed over from President Barack Obama to President Trump virtually immediately after Trump's noon eastern time swearing in.
A few things were noticeably missing from the new administration's site - including a report on civil rights, a report on LGBT and transexual issues in the workplace, and the Obama administration's detailed report on climate change.
The Obama administration website has been archived, and is available at ObamaWhiteHouse.archives.gov.
Click here to view the Obama administration's report on climate change.
Click here to view the Obama administration's report on civil rights.
Click here to view the Obama administration's record on social issues.
The Department of Labor's report on LGBT workplace rights still is available on the department's website. We have archived it, and will make it available if this copy is removed.