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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 Issues

Mueller's Indictments
President: Donald Trump
Trump's Enrichment


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Manafort indicted on NY fraud charges

2019-Mar-13By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's former campaign manager has been indicted by a New York grand jury in connection with a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme.

Paul Manafort was charged with 16 counts including residential mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

The indictment was unsealed shortly after Manafort was sentenced to a total of 7-1/2 years in prison in two federal cases.

Former Trump attorney lays out possible Trump crimes

2019-Feb-27  (Updated: 2019-Mar-07)By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer has provided evidence that Trump may have broken campaign finance law, and indicated he may have committed other crimes as well.

Testifying before the House Oversight CommitteeMichael Cohen provided copies of two checks that he said were repayments for hush money he paid to cover up Trump's alleged sexual liaison with pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford.

One of the checks was signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg - the Trump Organization's chief financial officer.

The other was signed by Trump.

Payments possibly violated federal campaign laws

Cohen said Trump directed him to make payments to Clifford (who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels) and to Karen McDougal "for the principal purpose of influencing the [2016] election."

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.

The New York Times later reported that Trump signed at least six checks to Cohen while he was president.

More information from Cohen's testimony

Cohen also testified that Trump inflated and deflated the value of his assets in order to lower tax bills and insurance premiums and to obtain a bank loan, which might subject him to charges of fraud and tax evasion.

The hearing largely steered clear of matters related to the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, which is being handled by the House and Senate intelligence committees as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Still, Cohen did provide some new information:

o He said Trump knew in advance from his longtime adviser Roger Stone about WikiLeaks' release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

o He said Trump's lawyers changed his prepared testimony to Congress about how long negotiations continued for a Trump tower in Moscow. He also said Trump met with him at the White House to discuss his upcoming testimony. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timing of the Moscow deal.

o He said he briefed Trump Jr. and Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump about 10 times about the Moscow project, which appears to contradict Trump Jr.'s testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

o He said the idea to provide a penthouse suite to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the proposed Moscow tower came from Trump associate Felix Sater.

o He said he has never been to the Czech Republic. A series of raw intelligence reports compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele claimed that Cohen met secretly with Kremlin representatives in Prague in the summer of 2016. Cohen has long denied the allegation. However, he previously told the Wall Street Journal that he had been to Prague back in 2001, and said something similar to Mother Jones and the Washington Post. Lawmakers did not ask Cohen to explain the discrepancy.

Law requires Trump to disclose taxes. But go make him.

2019-Feb-26  (Updated: 2019-Feb-28)By: Barry Shatzman

The House of Representatives is looking at ways to examine President Donald Trump's tax returns. The law says he can't refuse. But Trump's returns still might never see the light of day.

Why do we care?

Providing a tax history during an election provides a way for citizens to consider possible conflicts of interest a potential president might have.

Tax records also can shine light on illegal activity.

What about Trump?

Campaigning for and being president have been profitable to Trump in several ways. Much of that profit - especially that since he was inaugurated - could violate the Constitution's emoluments clauses.

Trump has not provided his tax records - making him the first president or major presidential candidate in recent history not to do so.

Trump repeatedly has said he can't release his taxes because they are being audited. However, nothing prevents someone from disclosing their own taxes - regardless of an audit. And in Congressional testimony on Feb. 27, Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen said he does not believe Trump's taxes are under audit in the first place.

How would Congress obtain his taxes? They simply ask.

The Internal Revenue Code allows the House House Ways and Means Committee to obtain the tax returns of any taxpayer from the Treasury Department - which is required by law to comply.

By default, the tax returns must stay within the committee. The committee can release them to the rest of Congress if there's a legitimate reason.

For the public to see them, they would need to be released by a committee that deals with taxes - meaning the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, or the Joint Committee on Taxation.

But no guarantee of release

While the law provides no basis for an administration to refuse a request - and no previous administration has - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly has been working on plans to keep Trump's taxes hidden.

If the Treasury Department refuses to release Trump's returns, the House could subpoena them. If the subpoena is ignored, the House could sue. A court case - which ultimately might be resolved by the Supreme Court - could take years to conclude.

House to investigate possible Trump money laundering

2019-Feb-07By: Rob Dennis

The House Intelligence Committee will investigate "credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise" involving President Donald Trump and his associates.

It is one of five threads that will be explored by the committee as part of a re-launched investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Republicans made up the majority of the committee last year, and shut down the investigation then. They also issued a report (without involvement from committee Democrats) claiming Russia didn't interfere to help Trump.

This contradicted reports from the intelligence community and from the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Investigations revived after Democrats became majority party in House

Rep. Adam Schiff, who took over as chair of the committee in January, announced the scope of the forthcoming probe on Feb. 6.

The investigation will include:

o The degree of the Russian government's operations to influence the U.S. political process during and since the 2016 election.

o Links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with Donald Trump's campaign, administration, or business interests.

o Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.

o Whether Trump, his family, or his associates have been vulnerable to foreign exploitation or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy for the benefit of foreign interests.

o Whether any actors - foreign or domestic - sought to impede authorized investigations into these matters, including those in the Congress.

Schiff also said he will give Mueller transcripts of interviews with more than 50 witnesses already conducted by the committee. The special counsel would need the official transcripts if he plans to charge more witnesses with lying to the committee.

Two of Trump's associates - Michael Cohen and Roger Stone - both were charged with making false statements to Congress because of their testimony to the committee. 

Trump defends Saudis while taking their money

2018-Dec-10By: Rob Dennis

Even after Congress accused the Saudi Arabian government of murdering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and the CIA came to the same conclusion, President Trump continued to defend the Saudis.

Meanwhile, Trump's businesses have raked in Saudi cash.

Saudis have spent millions on Trump hotels

The month after Trump's election, lobbyists representing the Saudi Arabian government spent more than a quarter-million dollars over a three-month period at Trump's hotel in Washington, D.C.

The bookings, from December 2016 to February 2017, accounted for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel, the Washington Post reported. They were part of an arrangement in which military veterans were offered a free trip to Washington, D.C.

The veterans were brought there to lobby against a law that allowed victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi government.

Other Trump hotels also have benefited from Saudi customers.

o Saudi bookings at Trump Chicago increased from 81 "room-nights" in the first half of 2016 to 218 in the first half of 2018.

o At Trump's hotel on Manhattan's Central Park West (which the president manages but doesn't own), a single stay in March 2018 by Saudi customers traveling with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helped turn a profit for the quarter.

Transactions like these have fueled lawsuits and questions about whether Trump's business interests are influencing his foreign policy.

Saudi money comes from more than hotels

Trump has a long history of lucrative business deals with Saudis:

o In 1991, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal agreed to buy Trump's 280-foot yacht for $20 million at a time when Trump was "teetering on personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash" because of failed casino projects.

o In 1995, Prince Alwaleed joined other investors to pay $325 million for Trump's Plaza Hotel in New York, which was losing money at the time.

o In 2001, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia paid $4.5 million for the entire 45th Floor of Trump World Tower in New York.

Familiar relationship

Muhammed also has developed a close relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and White House senior staff member. The two continued to speak informally after Khashoggi's killing and Kushner offered Muhammed "advice about how to weather the storm," the New York Times reported.

Congress tries to impose its will on Russia investigation

2018-Dec-03By: Barry Shatzman

As the 115th Congress approaches its final two weeks before adjourning, it faces several bills regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

President Trump has called for Mueller to be fired since Mueller's first month on the job. It's likely that he lacks the authority, and that Mueller can be fired only by the person overseeing the investigation.

Previously, that was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had the role because then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. But Trump fired Sessions and appointed Matthew Whitaker to be acting attorney general. Whitaker had spoken out against the investigation - and now he oversees it.

Measures call for both protecting the investigation and for ending it

Some of the bills call for protecting the investigation:

o The Special Counsel Integrity Act would allow a special counsel to be fired only by a Department of Justice (DOJ) official who has been confirmed by the Senate. Dismissal could be only for good cause, and could be appealed in court.

o The Special Counsel Independence Protection Act would allow a special counsel to be fired only for good cause.

o The Special Counsel Security Assurance Act would require court approval for a president to revoke the security clearance of a special counsel.

There also are resolutions calling for an end to the investigation:

o One calls for the investigation to end (or for Mueller to provide a conclusion date) within 30 days of its adoption.

o One calls for impeaching Rod Rosenstein for "high crimes and misdemeanors".

o One calls for Robert Mueller to resign from his special counsel position.

Highly unlikely any of them would pass on their own

The anti-investigation bills, being resolutions solely in the House of Representatives, could not enforce any action even if approved.

The bills to protect the investigation would need to pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives. To become law, they would need to be signed by the president.

Congress also could include one of the bills in a must-pass budget bill, risking a government shutdown if not passed.

NYT: Trump fortune built on fraud, cost gov't half billion

2018-Oct-15By: 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...

o Trump inherited more than $400 million in today's dollars, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day. By age 3, he was earning $200,000 a year from his father's businesses. By age 8, he was a millionaire.

o Later, Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions, submitted tax returns that "grossly undervalued" inherited properties, and helped set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts.

o Trump's parents transferred more than $1 billion to their children. This could have resulted in a tax bill of at least $550 million. Instead, the Trumps paid approximately $50 million.

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.

Former Trump campaign head pleads guilty, will cooperate

2018-Sep-14  (Updated: 2018-Mar-13)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:

o Events surrounding a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower in New York between senior campaign officials and a Russian lawyer offering "dirt" on Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. In addition to Manafort, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner attended the meeting. A former Soviet counterintelligence officer and a Soviet-born financier who once was the focus of a congressional probe into money laundering also were present.

o Manafort's own contacts during the campaign with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Manafort's longtime business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. In a court filing, prosecutors claimed a man matching Kilimnik's description has ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.

Four other Trump aides have pleaded guilty to various charges and agreed to cooperate with Mueller:

o Former campaign aide and national security adviser Michael Flynn.
o Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos.
o Former campaign aide Rick Gates.
o Former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Update 2019-March-13: Manafort has been sentenced to 73 months in prison. Thirty of those months will run concurrently with his previous sentence, bringing his total sentence to 7-1/2 years.

Trump's former campaign manager convicted

2018-Aug-21  (Updated: 2019-Mar-07)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.

Update 2019-March-7: Manafort has been sentenced to 47 months in prison.

Trump's former lawyer pleads guilty, implicates president in felonies

2018-Aug-21By: 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...

o $1.2 million from the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

o $600,000 from telecommunications company AT&T.

o $150,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which is working with defense contractor Lockheed Martin in competing for a multibillion-dollar Air Force contract.

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.

EPA head Pruitt faces multiple ethics investigations

2018-Apr-09By: 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:

o Spent $3 million on security in just a year on the job. Pruitt's 20-member full-time security detail is more than triple the size of that of his predecessor in the Obama administration.

o Flew first class with his security chief, citing "security concerns." Federal employees typically fly coach. So does Pruitt when taxpayers aren't paying.

o Bought a $43,000 soundproof booth to conduct private phone calls.

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.

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.

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-28By: 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-23By: 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.

White House proposes eliminating civil rights agency

2018-Feb-12By: 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.

Trump ordered Mueller fired. White House counsel refused

2018-Jan-25By: 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:

o Mueller was involved in an alleged dispute over membership fees when he resigned as a member of Trump National Golf Club in Virginia in 2011.

o Mueller worked for a law firm that previously represented Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

o Mueller was interviewed to be FBI director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.

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-19By: 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.

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-25By: 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.

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.

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  (Updated: 2018-Dec-03)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.

Update 2018-Nov-3: A federal judge ruled that the lawsuit can proceed.

Update 2018-Dec-3: Subpoenas are expected to be issued focusing on the Trump International Hotel near the White House.

COVFEFE Act would make presidential tweets official records

2017-Jun-12By: 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.

VA awards contract with no competition - and no price

2017-Jun-05By: 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-10By: 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... -> 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-06By: 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.

Bill would require presidents to disclose visitors

2017-Mar-23By: 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-20By: 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.

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