Amazon Not Going To NYC

Ken AshfordBreaking News, Economy & Jobs & DeficitLeave a Comment

The online retailer faced opposition from some politicians, who were unhappy with the tax incentives Amazon was promised.

No matter what you think of the decision, what’s fascinating about the Amazon news is what it says about

1. The surging power of progressivism in this moment in places like NY

2. The reflexive expectation of unquestioned massive subsidies and tax breaks by big corporations.

Dealmaker, My Ass

Ken AshfordPolls, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

To all the people out there who voted for Trump because he is a great dealmaker, let’s review how well he did on his first big dealmaking with a non-compliant Congress:

March 2018: Democrats offer $25B in border all funding for a pathway to citizenship for the dreamers. Trump kills the deal by tacking on draconian cuts to LEGAL immigration.

December 2018: Trump demands $5B for wall; Democrats counter with a $1.6B offer. Trump shuts down the government, costing the U.S. economy $11B.

January 2019: Trump caves, ends shutdown in humiliating political defeat, vows to get WALL funding as a condition to fund the government after 2/15/2019.

February 2019: Trump indicates he’ll sign a bill with $1.375 billion “fencing” funds – limited to the type of barrier already in use — to avoid another shutdown.

Well done, Mr. Art of the Deal!

Fox News bimbo weighs in:

SINCE the shutdown however, Trump’s approval/disapproval has jumped very favorably in his direction (+7 approve/-7 disapprove) in the Gallup poll.

Trump Lies About Whether He Was Cleared Of Collusion

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

On Sunday, President Trump began boasting that he’d been cleared by the Senate Intelligence Committee of any wrongdoing in the 2016 election.

“Senator Richard Burr, The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, just announced that after almost two years, more than two hundred interviews, and thousands of documents, they have found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Is anybody really surprised by this?”

Except….. that’s not the full context of what Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said. He indicated that his panel is getting close to closing the investigatory part of their inquiry and moving on to writing a report. Other members of the committee have suggested it could take as long as seven months to write their report. Burr also acknowledged that some people would see their findings (as they currently stand) as evidence of collusion.

“What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people,” Burr told CBS. “And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.”

Up until the beginning of the new Congress in January, the Senate Intelligence Committee was leading the most aggressive congressional inquiry into the Russians’ role in the 2016 election. Unlike the House Intelligence Committee, they worked in a bipartisan way and didn’t divert their effort to running interference for the administration. They’ve uncovered plenty of damning information, but they haven’t found a signed contract between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Still, what the chairman said is that we’ll each get to decide whether his report indicates collusion. That’s not the same thing as giving the president a clean bill of health.

Their investigation is not over yet. They have reason to believe that some people they have interviewed did not tell them the truth. However they proceed from here, they will certainly not be taking the lead anymore. There are three committees in the House that will be in charge of completing the investigation, and a couple more could play important roles. The Ways & Means and Financial Services committees will probably look at the president’s taxes and the Trump Organization. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is the primary investigatory body in the House. The Intelligence Committee under chairman Adam Schiff has announced a very aggressive and far-ranging plan. And the House Judiciary Committee, which would initiate any impeachment proceedings, is staffing up in a big way.

In light of all of this investigative energy on the House side, it may be that Senator Burr doesn’t feel as much pressure to get to the bottom of Russia’s activities. What I know for sure is that other events will have overtaken their investigation long before they’ve completed writing their report. Contrary to what the president is saying, they haven’t cleared him of anything.  It’s uncertain if they ever will.

Democrats and Republicans Agree To A Border Deal, Averting Shutdown

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The Washington Post has the details:

The framework would provide $1.375 billion for barriers along the border, including 55 miles of new fencing,with certain restrictions on the location, according to a congressional official familiar with the agreement….Democrats backed down from their demand on tight limits on detention beds that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement could use to detain undocumented immigrants, pulling away from a push that that led to a breakdown in talks over the weekend.

To avert a shutdown, the deal needs to be written into final legislation, passed by both the House and Senate, and signed into law by the president.

White House officials were reviewing the terms of the deal, and Shelby said he was hopeful Trump would be supportive. But details of the compromise disclosed late Monday quickly came under fire from conservatives, raising the prospect of a backlash from the right that could ultimately render it unacceptable to Trump.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, a Trump confidant, immediately called the shutdown deal a “garbage compromise.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who talks regularly with Trump, said that it fails to address serious threats.

I’m sure there are Democrats unhappy with the deal too. But it will likely pass both houses, and that puts the ball square in Trump’s court. With Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter likely to buck, it remains an open question whether or not Trump will sign it.

But if he doesn’t, and the government shuts down again, this will again be a “Trump shutdown”.

My guess? He will sign it. Trump finds it easier to lie about “successes” than to actually deliver them. Thank God.

UPDATE: Trump is “extremely unhappy” about the deal, but gave no signs as to whether he would sign it or declare an emergency or have a government shutdown.

UPDATE: Ann Coulter weighs in…

“Yellow New Deal” is probably a play on the “Green New Deal” being discussed now, with “yellow” being a reference to Trump’s cowardice. She really knows how to yank his leash.

Trump Incites Violence

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump’s rally in El Paso last night — to shill for his border wall — was notable for many reasons. For one thing, the counter-rally (with El Paso native Beto O’Rourke) had more attendees…

… although that number does not include Trump rally-goers in the overflow park.

Trump, ever the liar, said 69,000 people signed up to attend the rally at the coliseum, but that only about 10,000 were allowed inside. Later, he said 35,000 people showed up.

Secondly, Trump was heavily gaslighting his supporters with a new slogan “Finish The Wall”. He knows he will not get the money to BUILD a wall (or at most, only a few miles of it), but he still wants to run in 2020 with a “Promises Made, Promises Kept” slogan. So, he’s going to lie about his promises kept.

Also, Trump is now taking credit for the English language. Speciofically, he bragged about coming up the “caravan” term during Monday night’s speech.

“How about the word ‘caravan’? Caravan. I think that was one of mine,” he said, as the crowd booed.

But perhaps most notably, the Trump rally was marred by violence. A BBC cameraman was assaulted by a supporter, but that didn’t stop Trump from attacking the media anyway.

Skeans was not injured. The incident was also captured from other angles:

Trump paused his speech while the assailant was escorted away. The audience responded with a smattering of “CNN sucks!” chants that eventually morphed into “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

About 10 minutes after Skeans was attacked, Trump laid into the media again while deflecting from the notion that his campaign colluded with Russia.

“There’s also collusion between the Democrats and the fake news, right here,” he said, prompting more “CNN sucks!” chants.

The Trump anti-media rhetoric has consequences. It was only last October that bombs were sent to CNN.

Here’s something that will never happen:

Weekly List 117

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This week was filled with news of Congressional inquiries, subpoenas, and investigations, as House committee chairs took the first steps to hold Trump and his regime accountable. Leaks from the regime heightened concerns about a White House rapidly devolving to the Trump Organization, with Trump largely freelancing and acting unilaterally, and taking the advice from a small group of sycophantic insiders.

With the government reopened, Trump delivered an otherwise mundane State of the Union speech, with the most memorable part being his attack on the investigations against him, evoking former President Richard Nixon’s 1974 speech shortly before impeachment proceedings began. Trump continued to push his manufactured crisis at the southern border, sending thousands more troops as he stoked racism and fear.

Other than his State of the Union speech, Trump was relatively quiet in the public sphere this week, with fewer tweets and public comments than his recent more frenetic pace. In addition to the Congressional investigations being launched, more news of subpoenas and investigations of the Trump Organization and its properties surfaced, including the emoluments clause case and inquiries farmed out by the Mueller probe.

  1. WAPO reported in his 745 days in office, Trump has made 8,459 false or misleading claims. The most frequently repeated claims related to the Russian investigation, trade with China, tax cuts, and immigration.
  2. Morning Consult’s Trump Tracker found Trump had his worst monthly approval rating of his time in office in January, with a record-low 40% saying they approve, while 55% disapprove.
  3. Those who disapprove include 88% of Democrats and 56% of independents. A majority of voters in 27 states said they disapproved of Trump, while a majority in just 12 states saying they approved.
  4. A CNN poll found 7 in 10 say the federal government is doing a bad job of governing, including 43% who say this the worst job of governing in their lifetimes — double the share (21%) after the 1996 shutdown.
  5. On Saturday, Trump tapped Ronny Jackson to receive a promotion and become his top medical adviser, even though Jackson is still under investigation by the Pentagon after his derailed VA secretary nomination.
  6. It was unclear if the Senate Armed Services Committee would act on Jackson’s promotion nomination to become a two-star admiral while the investigations into mismanagement and misconduct are still ongoing.
  7. On Saturday, TIME reported several senior intelligence briefers broke two years of silence to warn that Trump is endangering American security with what they say is a stubborn disregard for their assessments.
  8. The briefers described Trump’s “willful ignorance,” as well as their attempts to keep his attention by using visual aids, shortening briefings points to two or three sentences, and repeating his name and title.
  9. Briefers said Trump reacts with anger when given information that contradicts positions he has taken or his beliefs. Officials were warned to avoid giving intelligence assessments that contradict his public stances.
  10. Briefers gave examples of Trump misidentifying Nepal and Bhutan as being part of India, and of the island Diego Garcia, home to a Naval Support Facility, Trump asked “are the people nice, and are the beaches good?”
  11. Trump has also ignored warning by intelligence on North Korea, including officials trying to get his attention by building a miniature version of a facility with New York’s Statue of Liberty to scale to show him the size.
  12. On Sunday, in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Trump renewed his pledge to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and repeated his claim that James Mattis “resigned because I asked him to resign.”
  13. Trump said there is “very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out,” adding “we’re at 99 percent now” — in stark contrast to Senate testimony by top U.S. Intelligence officials in Week 116.
  14. The rest of the interview aired before the Super Bowl. Trump said NFL ratings were now “terrific” because players were not kneeling and the league was not battling him. Ratings for the game hit a 10-year low.
  15. Trump said of the intelligence chiefs, “I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree,” and cited intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq War. Trump typically gets just three intelligence briefings each week.
  16. Trump also declined to say if the Mueller report should be made public, saying he will defer to the Justice Department: “That’s up to the attorney general. I don’t know. It depends. I have no idea what it’s going to say.”
  17. Trump called the Mueller probe “a total witch hunt,” adding, “it doesn’t implicate me in any way. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction,” and, “I think it’s a disgrace.”
  18. When asked about the 34 indictments, Trump said none of the charges were related to him, saying “many” of the Russians charged “were bloggers from Moscow or they were people that had nothing to do with me.”
  19. Trump also said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “very rigid,” and said of another government shutdown in 12 days when the extension runs out, “I don’t take anything off the table.”
  20. Amid Super Bowl commercials, WAPO featured an ad titled “Democracy Dies in Darkness” on the importance of the free press, saying, “Because knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free.”
  21. On Sunday, Axios reported that leaked copies of Trump’s private schedules for nearly every working day since the midterms show Trump spent around 60% of the last three months in “Executive Time.”
  22. The schedules revealed Trump spends his mornings in the residence, watching TV, reading the papers, and responding by phoning aides, Congressional allies, friends, regime officials, and informal advisers.
  23. Trump’s first meeting is typically at 11 or 11:30 a.m. Since midterms, he has spent 297 hours in Executive Time and 77 hours in meetings that included policy planning, legislative strategy, and video recordings.
  24. Presidential historians said there is no precedent for this type of schedule. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Trump has a different leadership style than his predecessors and the results speak for themselves.”
  25. Axios reported the leak of Trump’s schedule left the White House rattled and set off internal finger-pointingand accusations of weaponizing Trump’s schedule.
  26. On Sunday, WAPO reported Trump is at a watershed moment of his time in office, facing a crossroads as Democrats take control of the House, and he finds himself at odds with intelligence officials and some GOP senators.
  27. White House aides describe a chaotic, freewheeling atmosphere reminiscent of Trump’s early weeks in office. Jared Kushner is acting as a de facto chief of staff as Trump remains unchecked and isolated.
  28. Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, has said he is trying to manage the staff but not Trump, and meets with Trump just twice a day. Trump is increasingly operating the White House like a family-owned business.
  29. On Monday, a Gallup poll found 60% of Americans oppose new construction on the border, up from 57% in June. The poll also found 81% support a path to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
  30. On Sunday, She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, the rapper known as 21 Savage, was arrested by ICE “during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners.” An ICE spokesperson claimed he is a felon.
  31. 21 Savage arrived from the U.K. at age of seven, making him akin to a “Dreamer.” 21 Savage’s legal team said he is not a convicted felon, which would disqualify him, and that ICE “provided incorrect information.”
  32. In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam said he had no plans to resign in the wake of a blackface scandal, while Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax faced two accusations of sexual assault, and AG Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface at a party decades ago.
  33. On Thursday, Trump tweeted, “Democrats at the top are killing the Great State of Virginia,” adding, “if the three failing pols were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken.”
  34. On Thursday, GOP Rep. Steve King, who recently drew criticism for overt racism and xenophobia, reintroduced legislation that would make English the official language of the U.S.
  35. On Friday, a video of a June speech by Trump supporter Candace Owens surfaced in which she seemed to defend Hitler, calling him a “national socialist,” and adding he “just wanted to make Germany great.”
  36. Cindy McCain apologized after claiming she stopped a case of human trafficking at the Phoenix airport saying “something didn’t click.” Police found no evidence of wrongdoing, rather it was a mixed-race family.
  37. On Wednesday, luxury brand Gucci said it would stop selling a $890 sweater that resembles blackface, and in a statement said it “deeply apologizes for the offense caused.”
  38. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund demanded an apology from a school district in Binghamton, New York, after AP reported that four 12-year-old female students said they were strip searched for drugs at school.
  39. On Wednesday, Virginia police sergeant Robert Stamm was suspended after being identified by an anti-fascist group as having an “affinity with white nationalist groups,” including tattoos, flags, and banners.
  40. On Thursday, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court blocked Louisiana from enforcing a law that women’s advocacy groups said would leave only a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions in the state.
  41. Chief Justice John Roberts, who has voiced concern about maintaining the integrity of the nation’s highest court after Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, voted with the court’s liberal members.
  42. Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissent, writing only for himself, saying he would have allowed the law to go into effect and see if it imposed a burden on women.
  43. WAPO reported despite allegations of ballot tampering in North Carolina’s 9th district, the Trump regime is focused instead on prosecution of non-citizens for alleged voter fraud.
  44. Twenty immigrants were rounded up in August 2018 over several days for illegally voting in 2016, one of the most aggressive voting-fraud crackdowns by a Trump-appointed prosecutor, Robert Higdon Jr.
  45. Higdon also issued subpoenas for millions of records of foreign-born voters in August. All but one of the 20 arrested are legal residents, and just five defendants received minimal fines or mis­demeanor convictions.
  46. The crackdown in North Carolina comes as Trump and other Republicans attempt to portray illegal voting as a widespread phenomenon that threatens the integrity of American elections.
  47. On Monday, the ACLU and other civil rights groups sued Texas officials and five county elections administrators over an advisory urging counties to review the citizenship status of thousands of flagged voters.
  48. The lawsuit claims Texas officials knew the list was flawed, including the names of naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote, and called the advisory “a thinly veiled attempt to decrease minority voter participation.”
  49. On Sunday, the Pentagon deployed an additional 3,750 troops to the southern border to help install wire barriers and monitor crossings, bringing the total number of active-duty troops there to around 6,000.
  50. On Sunday, Trump tweeted “with Caravans marching through Mexico and toward our Country, Republicans must be prepared to do whatever is necessary,” adding, “if there is no Wall, there is no Security.”
  51. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted about the troops, saying, “tremendous numbers of people are coming up through Mexico in the hopes of flooding our Southern Border,” adding, “We will build a Human Wall if necessary.
  52. On Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the newly-elected Democratic governor of New Mexico, ordered the withdrawal of the majority of the state’s National Guard troops from the U.S.-Mexico border.
  53. The announcement was made shortly before the SOTU. Lujan Grisham said, “New Mexico will not take part in the president’s charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops.”
  54. On Wednesday, NBC News reported Customs and Border Protection officials in Eagle Pass, Texas will let in just 20 migrants per day, after a caravan of 1,800 arrived, a process referred to as metering.
  55. On Thursday, Commander Jonathan White, a senior Health and Human Services official, told a House oversight subcommittee he raised concerns about separating families before “zero tolerance” was announced.
  56. White’s concerns included the policy would be “inconsistent with our legal requirement to act in the best interest of the child” and expose them to unnecessary harm, and it would exceed the capacity of the program.
  57. White said he shared his concerns with then-director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement Scott Lloyd, adding, “Neither I nor any career person in (the ORR) would ever have supported such a policy proposal.”
  58. On Monday, AP reported Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich, who had claimed to have information on ties between Russians and Trump’s campaign, said she has turned over the information to Oleg Deripaska.
  59. On Monday, BuzzFeed reported Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military officer turned Washington lobbyist, received half a million dollars in suspicious payments before and after attending the June 9 Trump Tower meeting.
  60. Akhmetshin received a wire transfer of $100,000 from Denis Katsyv, owner of Prevezon Holdings, and $52,000 from a foundation funded by Katsyv and other wealthy Russians to try to undermine the Magnitsky Act.
  61. On Monday, ABC News reported prosecutors from the Southern District of New York public corruption section have subpoenaed documents from Trump’s inauguration committee.
  62. Prosecutors are seeking documents and records on the inauguration committee’s donors, and information on attendees at inauguration events including benefits to top-level donors.
  63. Prosecutors also subpoenaed the committee on its communications with California money-manager Imaad Zuberi and his company, Avenue Ventures. Zuberi is the only person named in the subpoena.
  64. Zuberi has largely donated to Democrats in the past, including Hillary Clinton and former President Obama. Records show Avenue Ventures donated $900,000 to the inaugural committee.
  65. The subpoena also requested records of vendors and contractors, including communications with payment-processing company Stripe. Jared Kushner’s brother Josh’s venture capital firm is a major investor in Stripe.
  66. On Tuesday, Rudy Giuliani said Trump “had little to no involvement in the inaugural committee.” Press secretary Sarah Sanders called it “hysteria,” adding, “anything to try to create and tie problems to this president.”
  67. On Friday, WNYC and ProPublica reported on evidence of potential tax law violations of self-dealing by Trump’s inaugural committee which spent at least $1.5 million at Trump Hotel DC around his inauguration.
  68. Evidence show that the nonprofit 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee paid $175,000 per day for event space, despite internal objections at the time that the rate was too high.
  69. Tom Barrack, the inauguration committee’s chair, also had a stake in Trump Hotel DC. Tax law prohibits nonprofits from paying inflated prices to entities owned by people who also control or influence its activities.
  70. On Monday, the Times of London reported prosecutors in Maryland have subpoenaed financial documents from the trust that owns the Trump Hotel DC and his golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland, in the emoluments case.
  71. Newsweek reported the Maryland attorney general has also subpoenaed Donald Jr., who is a trustee of the Trump Organization, and Allen Weisselberg, the organization’s financial officer.
  72. During his January 2018 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS, said Trump’s Scotland golf courses were used to funnel money from unknown sources.
  73. On Tuesday, NYT reported SDNY prosecutors are also investigating firms recruited by Paul Manafort over the flow of foreign money — another investigation spun off from the Mueller probe.
  74. The firms being investigated for payments to help improve the image of the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine include Mercury Public Affairs, the Podesta Group and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
  75. On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported on a cache of Trump Organization internal documents which reveal efforts to build Trump Tower Moscow was a long-running, detail-oriented undertaking.
  76. Documents show Michael Cohen and Felix Sater worked with Trump Organization lawyers and Ivanka to push forward negotiations while Trump was on the campaign trail, often praising Putin at key deal junctures.
  77. On Friday, Ivanka told “Good Morning America” that she knew “literally almost nothing” about the Trump Tower Moscow project, adding, “we were an active business.”
  78. Ivanka also said of the project, “there was never a binding contract. I never talked to the — with a third party outside of the organization about it. It was one of — I mean we could have had 40 or 50 deals like that.”
  79. Ivanka downplayed doing business with Russia: “It’s not like it’s a strange thing, as a hospitality company or a development company, to have a hotel or a property in Russia. We’re not talking about Iran.”
  80. On Wednesday, CNN reported the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office is seeking interviews with executives from the Trump Organization. The specific inquiry and topics was not yet clear.
  81. The investigation is in addition to the cases against Cohen and investigation of the inaugural committee, and may pose more threat to Trump, his family, and allies after the Mueller investigation and his time in office.
  82. On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff announced “in the interests of the investigation” Michael Cohen’s testimony scheduled for February 7 will be postponed to February 28.
  83. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the special counsel said prosecutor Scott Meisler left the probe in December, but remains active in cases he is involved in — indicating the Mueller probe could be nearing its conclusion.
  84. On Wednesday, Paul Erickson, a GOP political operative and boyfriend of Maria Butina, was indicted in South Dakota on charges of wire fraud and money laundering — separate from the Mueller’s case against Butina.
  85. On Thursday, a federal judge in New York ordered the government to submit redacted search warrants on the Cohen raid in April, saying the redactions are necessary because “aspects” of the investigation continue.
  86. In keeping names confidential, federal prosecutors told the judge some individuals in the materials are cooperating, and others are subjects of the investigation into campaign finance crimes.
  87. On Monday, Politico reported Trump is expected to name Treasury Department official David Malpass to run the World Bank. Malpass has been a vocal critic of the bank, and is expected to rein in its work.
  88. On Monday, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham warned Republicans to back Trump if he declares a national emergency to fund his wall, saying, “This is about more than a barrier. This is about us as a party.”
  89. Roll Call reported that the first Monday in the month of February was the legal deadline for submitting a president’s budget fiscal 2020 budget request to Congress. Trump ignored the law established in 1990.
  90. On Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported the DOJ opened an investigation into Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta’s role in negotiating a plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein over an accusation of molesting underage girls.
  91. The probe was opened at the request of GOP Sen. Ben Sasse. Epstein is known to have many powerful friends, including Trump, Bill Clinton, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who often defends Trump in the media.
  92. On Wednesday, the Trump regime announced it will roll back Obama-era restrictions requiring payday and vehicle title lenders to make an effort to find out whether borrowers could afford to pay them back before lending.
  93. The effort of rescinding the requirement on the lenders, whose lending practices are thought by many experts to be predatory, came as Mick Mulvaney took over as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  94. WAPO updated reporting to show T-Mobile executives seeking merger approval booked at least 52 nights at Trump Hotel DC. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal issued letters demanding information.
  95. On Friday, ABC News reported Trump’s 2020 campaign has paid nearly $100,000 of donor money to law firm representing Jared Kushner, according to campaign finance records.
  96. Payments of $55,330 and $42,574 were made to Winston & Strawn, the firm Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell joined in May 2018. Contributions of $200 or less made up 98.5% of funds raised by the campaign last quarter.
  97. On Tuesday, 30 minutes before the State of the Union, the Trump campaign sent out a text message to supporters soliciting donations in exchange for having their name appear on a special livestream.
  98. Despite his expected call for unity, ahead of the speech Trump dismissed former Vice President Joseph Biden as “dumb,” and tweeted Sen. Chuck Schumer is “upset that he didn’t win the Senate, after spending a fortune.”
  99. Trump also told reporters “I hope I haven’t wounded Pocahontas too badly,” saying he would like to run against Sen. Warren, and said of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, “he choked like a dog” at his press conference.
  100. Trump also recounted how he felt betrayed by deceased Sen. John McCain voting against a measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, adding “by the way, he wrote a book and the book bombed.”
  101. Women in the House wore white to the SOTU. Rep. Lois Frankel called it a “sea of #Suffragette white,” sending the message House Democratic women “are fighting for the economic security of women & families.”
  102. Congresswomen wore white to Trump’s SOTU in 2017, and black in 2018 in solidarity with the #MeToo movement. But the sheer mass of 89 women in 2019 made a statement. Tiffany Trump also wore white.
  103. Trump delivered an hour and 21 minute SOTU, the third longest, in what was billed as a “unifying” speech, and billed as the theme “Choosing Greatness.” The speech was delayed due to the government shutdown.
  104. Trump’s speech was packed with false and misleading claims, and dubious figures related to the economy, trade, immigration, and foreign policy, many of which Trump has repeatedly used.
  105. Trump, reading his speech from a teleprompter said, “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”
  106. Trump then added, “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.” Democrats reacted with dismay and outrage. Republicans were subdued.
  107. Trump remarks echoed Richard Nixon in his 1974 SOTU: “I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end,” shortly before impeachment proceedings began.
  108. Speaker Pelosi displayed vivid responses to Trump’s speech with gestures, shaking her head in disagreement, and giving a visible look of disbelief over Trump’s comments on “politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.”
  109. Pelosi also frequently checked the written copy of Trump’s speech as he spoke, and on two occasions calmed her caucus’ reaction by raising her hand. Democrats remained polite and disciplined throughout the speech.
  110. On Wednesday, in the first act under the leadership of Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee voted to send Mueller unredacted transcripts of more than 50 witness interviews in the Russia probe.
  111. Democrats said the testimony will allow Mueller’ team to determine whether perjury charges are warranted, and include testimony of Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Donald Jr., and Jared Kushner.
  112. Schiff told reporters the committee’s work would expand to include any “foreign actors” who might have worked to influence Trump, his family or associates, or to impede any investigations.
  113. The committee will also look at Trump’s foreign policy and whether he, his family, and his advisers “are or were at any time at heightened risk of” foreign “exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure or coercion.”
  114. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that Schiff is “just a political hack,” adding, “he’s trying to build a name for himself,” and “no other politician has to go through that. It’s called presidential harassment.”
  115. On Thursday, CNN reported Schiff has hired officials with experience at the National Security Council to help with oversight of the Trump regime. It is unclear if the officials worked for Trump, but the move enraged him.
  116. On Thursday, in a series of early morning tweets, Trump said, “the Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts’,” adding committee heads are “even stealing people who work at White House! A continuation of Witch Hunt!”
  117. CNN reported when a regime official was asked about Trump’s tweet about “stealing people who work at White House,” the official responded to reporters, “ask Adam Schiff what that means.”
  118. Trump also tweeted, “So now Congressman Adam Schiff announces…he is going to be looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal,” adding, “Never happened before! Unlimited Presidential Harassment…”
  119. Trump sent a third tweet on the matter at 7:37 a.m. EST, saying, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! It should never be allowed to happen again!”
  120. On Wednesday, Politico reported House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are in conversation about his testifying about lifting sanctions of Oleg Deripaska’s companies.
  121. Waters called for Mnuchin to testify after his department failed to turn over documents requested by Democrats by the deadline on Tuesday.
  122. On Thursday, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump told the crowd, “I will never let you down,” then shifted and made an apparent gaffe, celebrating the “abolition of civil rights.”
  123. Trump praised Second Lady Karen Pence, saying “she just went back to teaching art classes at a Christian school,” calling her a “terrific woman.” The school openly discriminates against LGBTQ students and staff.
  124. On Thursday, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said he would not appear before the House Judiciary Committee as scheduled Friday unless committee Democrats gave him assurances he would not be subpoenaed.
  125. In the early evening, chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler sent a letter to Whitaker, saying the committee would not make that promise and “there will be no need for a subpoena” if Whitaker answers lawmakers’ questions.
  126. After negotiations, Whitaker said he would appear on Friday, and Nadler agreed that no subpoena would be issued Thursday or Friday, after a day of back and forth public bickering between Democrats and the DOJ.
  127. On Thursday, a House Ways and Means Committee panel brought in several experts in tax law to begin hearings to lay the groundwork for a potential request to obtain Trump’s tax returns.
  128. The subcommittee discussed a provision which would compel presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns within 30 days of garnering their party’s nomination. Republicans oppose the measure.
  129. Since the 1970s, every president has released at least one-year of tax returns. Trump claimed he cannot release his returns because they are being audited, and that they are “extremely complex.”
  130. On Thursday, a CNN poll found that 87% of Americans believe Mueller’s investigators should release a full, public report — just 9% believe they should not. Republicans agree, with 80% calling for the release.
  131. On Thursday, CBS News reported Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr said two years in, its Russia investigation is broader, and perhaps more consequential, than people thought it would be.
  132. Burr said the committee started off with investigating the 2016 election, but came to a “better understanding of what happened and how coordinated and organized the effort was.
  133. Burr also said because of access to intelligence product “we’ve interviewed people that I don’t even know if the special counsel knows about them,” and said their product will cover well beyond the 2016 election.
  134. Burr also said access “gave us tremendous insight to know when somebody was lying to us,” adding that the committee had “not been shy” in referring individuals for criminal prosecution.
  135. Burr also said based on the evidence to date, including interviewing more than 200 witnesses and 300,000 documents, “we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.”
  136. Burr said the committee is close to releasing a report on the Obama administration’s response to Russian interference, but that the rest could occupy the committee for decades, and much of it kept confidential.
  137. On Thursday, Trump tweeted, “highly respected Senator Richard Burr” said today that “ after an almost two year investigation, he saw no evidence of Russia collusion,” adding, “Thank you!”
  138. On Friday, Trump tweeted, “the mainstream media has refused to cover the fact that the head of the VERY important Senate Intelligence Committee” […] “just stated that they have found NO COLLUSION between “Trump” & Russia.”
  139. Trump also tweeted, “it is all a GIANT AND ILLEGAL HOAX” used as an excuse “as to why Crooked Hillary Clinton lost the Election.”
  140. Trump also tweeted, “someday the Fake News Media will turn honest & report that Donald J. Trump was actually a GREAT Candidate,” and then tweeted a 50% approval rating by conservative pollster Rasmussen polls.
  141. On Thursday, NYT reported U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted a conversation of Saudi crown prince MBS telling a top aide in 2017 that he would use a “bullet” on journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  142. On Thursday, a United Nations-led inquiry into the Khashoggi’s murder found the “brutal and premeditated killing” was “planned and perpetrated by officials of the state of Saudi Arabia.”
  143. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, which would impose sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi’s death and prohibit the sale of some weapons.
  144. On Friday, CNN reported Trump refused to meet a legal requirement to send Congress a report due that day on whether crown prince MBS was responsible for the killing of Khashoggi.
  145. A spokesperson for the White House told CNN that Trump “maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate.” The refusal is likely to anger members of both parties.
  146. On Thursday, in a blog post on Medium, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused American Media Inc, the publisher of the National Enquirer, of attempting to extort him over leaked naked photos. Bezos published AMI emails.
  147. Bezos’ blog post insinuates AMI, whose owner is Trump ally David Pecker, may have been politically motivated because of his ownership of WAPO, which had recapped AMI’s “catch and kill” practices.
  148. Bezos hinted at a Saudi connection: “an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”
  149. On Thursday, Ronan Farrow tweeted that he “and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about the National Enquirer’s arrangement with Trump” received blackmail threats.
  150. Farrow, who reported on the Enquirer’s “catch and kill” practice that benefited Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, also tweeted he was told “stop digging or we’ll ruin you.”
  151. In response to Farrow, Associated Press editor Ted Bridis tweeted AP was warned “AMI had hired private investigators to dig into backgrounds” of AP journalists who were reporting “on tabloid’s work on behalf of Trump.
  152. On Friday, AMI said in a statement that it “acted lawfully in the reporting of the story” and “was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him,” but said it would thoroughly investigate the extortion claims.
  153. On Friday, AP reported federal prosecutors in the SDNY are investigating whether AMI violated an earlier cooperation agreement with its handling of the story on Bezos.
  154. On Friday, a White House spokesperson said he “wasn’t sure” if Trump was aware of the situation between Bezos and Pecker, adding he was “not aware” of the last time Trump spoke to Pecker.
  155. On Thursday, WAPO reported the government reopening is off to a rocky start as thousands of federal employees experienced delays or received incorrect amounts in their paychecks.
  156. The mood is described as subdued, with workers fatigued and demoralized. Private contractors have not been paid for invoices, and some had bureaucratic hurdles as contracts expired during the shutdown.
  157. On Friday, in a combative six-hour publicly televised hearing, acting attorney general Whitaker testifiedbefore the House in what likely will be his last appearance before William Barr is expected to be confirmed.
  158. Daily Beast reported Whitaker went through extensive preparation, including multiple practice committee hearings. Sources said, “They hate this guy so much,” and “We don’t know what they’re going to do.”
  159. Whitaker largely avoided answering questions, was an unsteady witness and often belligerent and rude to members of Congress, seeming to performing for an audience of one: Trump.
  160. Whitaker monitored the clock closely, at one point jabbing the committee chair Rep. Nadler, saying, “Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up,” resulting in gasps and laughs from the audience.
  161. Whitaker said he has not influenced the Mueller probe in any way, nor spoken to Trump about it since his appointment. Whitaker added he had not discussed the probe with other White House officials.
  162. Whitaker refused to disagree with Trump’s characterization of the probe as a “witch hunt,” instead frequently repeating the line, “It would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation.”
  163. When asked about speaking with Trump on other investigations, Whitaker hedged, saying “I am not going to discuss my private conversations with the president of the United States. No matter what the question is.”
  164. He also refused to answer questions about whether he had approved investigative steps in the Mueller probe, and whether he had been briefed on the probe, and if so, how often.
  165. Whitaker said the DOJ believes a sitting president cannot be indicted, saying, “That is still the policy of the Department of Justice.”
  166. In an exchange with Rep. Madeleine Dean, Whitaker seemed to contradict himself on how he was notified by Trump of getting the job, saying it was by Trump’s tweet, then by a phone call, then said he could not recall.
  167. On Friday, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Mark Takano said his committee is opening an investigation of three member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago who have had outsized influence in the Veterans Affairs.
  168. Takano requested documents from Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman, and their companies, of contacts with current or former VA officials.
  169. On Friday, Trump underwent his second annual physical while in office. Although this week he brought Ronny Jackson back to his staff, it was conducted by Dr. Sean Conley, a Navy officer.
  170. Details were sparse. Conley said Trump is in “very good health,” and that “reports and recommendations are being finalized,” but did not say when or if they would be publicly released.
  171. The physical was the only thing on Trump’s Friday schedule. When asked by reporters, a White House spokesperson did not explain why or how Trump was tweeting during his physical.
  172. On Friday, Trump confirmed a second summit with Kim Jong Un, tweeting, “my representatives have just left North Korea after a very productive meeting.” The summit will take place in Hanoi on February 27 and 28.
  173. Trump also tweeted, “North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, will become a great Economic Powerhouse,” adding, “I have gotten to know him & fully understand how capable he is.”
  174. Trump has continued to ignore and dispute evidence from experts and U.S. intelligence officials that North Korea’s compliance in talks is no more than smoke and mirrors, as their nuclear build-up continues.
  175. On Saturday, Trump reacted to oversight for the first time this week by House Democrats, tweeting, “the Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see.”
  176. Trump also tweeted, “When the Republicans had the Majority they never acted with such hatred and scorn!” — this is false. Trump also claimed if Democrats were still in power “the U.S. would be in a Depression.”
  177. Trump also again raised the specter of voter fraud, tweeting: “The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!”

Pecker And The Dick Pic

Ken AshfordCrime, Fake News, Sex Scandals, Sex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

Very strange but important story involving AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, and Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of Amazon and, as an aside, the Washington Post. Last night, Bezos published the following on Medium:

No thank you, Mr. Pecker

Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.

AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, led by David Pecker, recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign. Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.

And sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together:

“After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions…”

Federal investigators and legitimate media have of course suspected and proved that Mr. Pecker has used the Enquirer and AMI for political reasons. And yet AMI keeps claiming otherwise:

“American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.”

Of course, legitimate media have been challenging that assertion for a long time.

I didn’t know much about most of that a few weeks ago when intimate texts messages from me were published in the National Enquirer. I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer. As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.

To lead my investigation, I retained Gavin de Becker. I’ve known Mr. de Becker for twenty years, his expertise in this arena is excellent, and he’s one of the smartest and most capable leaders I know. I asked him to prioritize protecting my time since I have other things I prefer to work on and to proceed with whatever budget he needed to pursue the facts in this matter.

Here’s a piece of context: My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.

President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.
(Even though The Post is a complexifier for me, I do not at all regret my investment. The Post is a critical institution with a critical mission. My stewardship of The Post and my support of its mission, which will remain unswerving, is something I will be most proud of when I’m 90 and reviewing my life, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, regardless of any complexities it creates for me.)

Back to the story: Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.

A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation.

My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos, and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy.\

AMI’s claim of newsworthiness is that the photos are necessary to show Amazon shareholders that my business judgment is terrible. I founded Amazon in my garage 24 years ago, and drove all the packages to the post office myself. Today, Amazon employs more than 600,000 people, just finished its most profitable year ever, even while investing heavily in new initiatives, and it’s usually somewhere between the #1 and #5 most valuable company in the world. I will let those results speak for themselves.

OK, back to their threat to publish intimate photos of me. I guess we (me, my lawyers, and Gavinde Becker) didn’t react to the generalized threat with enough fear, so they sent this:

From: Howard, Dylan [dhoward@amilink.com] (Chief Content Officer, AMI)
 
Sent: Tuesday, February 5, 2019 3:33 PM
 
To: Martin Singer (litigation counsel for Mr. de Becker)
 
Subject:. Jeff Bezos & Ms. Lauren Sanchez Photos
CONFIDENTIAL & NOT FOR DISTRIBIUTION
Marty:
I am leaving the office for the night. I will be available on my cell — 917 XXX-XXXX.

However, in the interests of expediating this situation, and with The Washington Post poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors of The National Enquirer’s initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering.

In addition to the “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick’” — The Enquirer obtained a further nine images. These include:

· Mr. Bezos face selfie at what appears to be a business meeting.

· Ms. Sanchez response — a photograph of her smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene.

· A shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts — and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment.

· A full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring.

· A selfie of Mr. Bezos fully clothed.

· A full-length scantily-clad body shot with short trunks.

· A naked selfie in a bathroom — while wearing his wedding ring. Mr. Bezos is wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen.

· Ms. Sanchez wearing a plunging red neckline dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region.

· Ms. Sanchez wearing a two-piece red bikini with gold detail dress revealing her cleavage.

It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.

Dylan.

Well, that got my attention. But not in the way they likely hoped. Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)

In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they’ll publish the photos, and quickly. And there’s an associated threat: They’ll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie.

Be assured, no real journalists ever propose anything like what is happening here: I will not report embarrassing information about you if you do X for me. And if you don’t do X quickly, I will report the embarrassing information.

Nothing I might write here could tell the National Enquirer story as eloquently as their own words below.

These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism. Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bezos

From: Fine, Jon [jfine@amilink.com] (Deputy General Counsel, AMI)
Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 5:57 PM
To: Martin Singer (Mr de Becker’s attorney)
Subject: Re: EXTERNAL* RE: Bezos et al / American Media et al
Marty –

Here are our proposed terms:

1. A full and complete mutual release of all claims that American Media, on the one hand, and Jeff Bezos and Gavin de Becker (the “Bezos Parties”), on the other, may have against each other.

2. A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility.

3. AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).

4. AM affirms that it undertook no electronic eavesdropping in connection with its reporting and has no knowledge of such conduct.

5. The agreement is completely confidential.

6. In the case of a breach of the agreement by one or more of the Bezos Parties, AM is released from its obligations under the agreement, and may publish the Unpublished Materials.

7. Any other disputes arising out of this agreement shall first be submitted to JAMS mediation in California

Thank you,
Jon

Deputy General Counsel, Media
American Media, LLC

Jon P. Fine
Deputy General Counsel, Media
O: (212) 743–6513 C: (347) 920–6541
jfine@amilink.com

February 5, 2019
Via email:
mdsinger@lavelysinger.com
Martin D. Singer
Laveley & Singer
Re: Jeff Bezos / American Media, LLC, et al.

Dear Mr. Singer:

I write in response to your February 4, 2019, letter to Dylan Howard, and to address serious concerns we have regarding the continuing defamatory activities of your client and his representatives regarding American Media’s motivations in its recent reporting about your client.

As a primary matter, please be advised that our newsgathering and reporting on matters involving your client, including any use of your client’s “private photographs,” has been, and will continue to be, consistent with applicable laws. As you know, “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting . . . is not an infringement of copyright.” 17 USC Sec. 107. With millions of Americans having a vested interest in the success of Amazon, of which your client remains founder, chairman, CEO, and president, an exploration of Mr. Bezos’ judgment as reflected by his texts and photos is indeed newsworthy and in the public interest.

Beyond the copyright issues you raise, we also find it necessary to address various unsubstantiated defamatory statements and scurrilous rumors attributed to your client’s representatives in the press suggesting that “strong leads point to political motives”1 in the publication of The National Enquirer story. Indeed, you yourself declared the “politically motivated underpinnings” of our reporting to be “self-evident” in your correspondence on Mr. de Becker’s behalf to Mr. Howard dated January 31, 2019.

Once again, as I advised you in my February 1 response to your January 31 correspondence, American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise. Simply put, this was and is a news story.

Yet, it is our understanding that your client’s representatives, including the Washington Post, continue to pursue and to disseminate these false and spurious allegations in a manner that is injurious to American Media and its executives.

Accordingly, we hereby demand that you cease and desist such defamatory conduct immediately. Any further dissemination of these false, vicious, speculative and unsubstantiated statements is done at your client’s peril.Absent the immediate cessation of the defamatory conduct, we will have no choice but to pursue all remedies available under applicable law.

As I advised previously, we stand by the legality of our newsgathering and reporting on this matter of public interest and concern. Moreover, American Media is undeterred from continuing its reporting on a story that is unambiguously in the public interest — a position Mr. Bezos clearly appreciates as reflected in Boies Schiller January 9 letter to American Media stating that your client “does not intend to discourage reporting about him” and “supports journalistic efforts.”

That said, if your client agrees to cease and desist such defamatory behavior, we are willing to engage in constructive conversations regarding the texts and photos which we have in our possession. Dylan Howard stands ready to discuss the matter at your convenience.

All other rights, claims, counterclaims and defenses are specifically reserved and not waived.

Sincerely,

This type of blackmail and distortion is standard operating procedure of AMI/National Enquirer, apparently:

This morning, the National Enquirer says it will investigate.

There are a few key breadcrumbs in Bezos’ post. Let’s go over them.

“I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer. As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.”

This strongly suggests that there are already criminal investigations underway into what happened here. Those could be in one of the jurisdictions where potential bad acts occurred (Los Angeles or Seattle, perhaps). It could be in New York since AMI is already tangled up with the the Trump Organization/Michael Cohen investigation. It could be state or federal. We don’t know. It is also possible there are congressional investigations and even conceivably counter-intelligence investigations

One thing is clear. If Bezos is being on the up and up here this is already a more serious situation than we realized.

“President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”

“Back to the story: Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”

This is the biggest breadcrumb. It may be too obvious to call it that. We know President Trump has a relationship with the Enquirer. Much less known is the relationship with the Saudi government. Bezos goes out of his way to suggest that what happened here may be tied to Saudi Arabia and specifically the controversy over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

UPDATE:

Trump’s Electoral Problem

Ken AshfordElection 2020, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump may have gotten a slight bounce from his SOTU speech (although the only post-SOTU poll is the unreliable Rasmussen), but from a 2020 re-election perspective, he should not be popping any champagne bottles.

According to Morning Consult:

Trump’s base remained fairly solid, with 83 percent of Republicans approving of the president. But that share of support among Republicans was its lowest since September, when Washington was roiled by the Supreme Court confirmation proceedings for Brett Kavanaugh.

The poor national marks were reflected at the state level.

A majority of voters in just 12 states approved of Trump’s job performance, all of which were red enclaves spanning from Wyoming to Alabama. The president retained support from a plurality of voters in five other states he easily carried during the 2016 election: Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Montana and North Dakota. But another state that Trump won, Nebraska, was split.

Trump’s net approval rating was underwater in 32 states, including 15 that experts said were worth keeping an eye on ahead of 2020.


A majority of voters in 27 states disapproved of Trump’s job performance in January, including Pennsylvania (53 percent disapprove), Michigan (55 percent disapprove) and Wisconsin (56 percent disapprove), all of which were pivotal to his Electoral College victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

A plurality of voters disapproved of the president in four states, including perennial swing-state Florida (50 percent disapprove) and Georgia (49 percent disapprove), where Democrats have grown more competitive in recent years amid shifting demographics and the growth of the Atlanta metro area. Without rounding, Trump was 1 point in the red in Texas, another state that has proven kinder to Democrats in the past two election cycles, as well.

The president is also underwater by double digits in Colorado (minus 18 points), Iowa (minus 14 points) and Maine (minus 11 points), states that could prove stiff competition for Trump and Senate Republicans next year.

In all, the January data shows Trump’s net approval declined in 43 states and increased in four: Idaho, Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico.

The biggest slide came in New Hampshire, the traditional holder of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Nearly six in 10 Granite Staters (58 percent) disapproved of Trump in January – up 6 points since December – while 39 percent approved, down 4 points since the prior month.

A chart shows how Trump is doing in key states:

Trump, who did not win the popular vote in 2016, may have some tricks in his bag. He’s proved pretty resistant to unpopularity, perhaps thanks to “outside influence” (Russia). But this shows that, as things stand now, the 2020 election is his to lose.

Document Dump: The Green New Deal

Ken AshfordCongress, Environment & Global Warming & EnergyLeave a Comment

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., are introducing a framework defining what they call a “Green New Deal” — what they foresee as a massive policy package that would remake the U.S. economy and, they hope, eliminate all U.S. carbon emissions.

That’s a really big — potentially impossibly big — undertaking.
It sets goals for some drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the economy, from electricity generation to transportation to agriculture. In the process, it aims to create jobs and boost the economy.

The proposal stresses that it aims to meet its ambitious goals while paying special attention to groups like the poor, disabled and minority communities that might be disproportionately affected by massive economic transitions like those the Green New Deal calls for.

Importantly, it’s a nonbinding resolution, meaning that even if it were to pass (more on the challenges to that below), it wouldn’t itself create any new programs. Instead, it would potentially affirm the sense of the House that these things should be done in the coming years.

The bill calls for a “10-year national mobilizations” toward accomplishing a series of goals that the resolution lays out.

Among the most prominent, the deal calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” The ultimate goal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely, as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.

But it will most likely be a litmus test for Democratic candidates in 2020.

Trump’s Baffling SOTU

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

On the whole, it was Trump’s best performance, but that is a VERY VERY low bar. The speech was fine — a lot of babble about his successes (although many of them misleading). He didn’t stray from the teleprompter too much. It was delivered like all his teleprompter speeches — slowly (he’s not a good reader) and as if he was reading for the first time. And to his credit, he didn’t wander off-script much.

He made promises that nobody expects him to keep. Curing AIDS. Curing child cancer. Things like that.

He praised successes that he didn’t earn. Like the economy. It’s good because of Obama. Trump only gets credit for not fucking it up too much. And it STILL benefits the wealthy (including his tax credit).

And as he praised himself on the economy, he . . . lied.

“The U.S. economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.”

This is false.

The American economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018. Growth in Latvia and Poland was almost twice as fast. Same for China and India. Even the troubled Greek economy posted stronger growth. And a wide range of economic analysts estimate that the growth of the American economy slowed in the fourth quarter, and slowed even further in the first month of 2019.

He told many other falsehood or misleading statements too — too many to account here.

He took credit for halting war with North Korea, too:

“If I had not been elected President of the US, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.”

That got a small laugh.

The only thing he mentioned, for which he does get credit, is a start on criminal justice reform. But that was an outlier.

But let’s go to the start.

He started on a great note. “There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it,” he said in the speech’s earlier moments. “Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country.”

Yup.

The problem, of course, is that Trump is a deeply flawed messenger on the whole “unity” thing. A pitch like this one — “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good” — could work if spoken by someone who, well, is not Trump.

Soon, however, came…. the line:

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Now, he said that first sentence as if it was to be something for Bartlett’s Book of Quotations. I mean, it rhymed! But just READ it — does it make sense?

I mean — yeah, if there is to be peace, there cannot be war. That’s true. So true it doesn’t even need to be said! But there can be peace and investigation. And there can be legislation and war. And there can be legislation and investigation. It’s just word salad!

And more importantly, it shows Trump’s mindset. It is, in essence, the perfect Trump line. Why? Because it shows how he conflates the country’s interest with his own self-serving interest. Even if he wanted to talk about the Mueller investigation in the State of The Union, it had place in that sentence. None at all. And its inclusion is just…. bizarre (I suspect that Trump put it in there himself).

Another moment involved the women. It was hard to miss the large number of Democratic women sitting together on the House floor wearing white in honor of the suffragette movement. And that group of women provided the most surprising — even for Trump — moment of the night.

In touting his economic successes, Trump delivered these lines:

“No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women who have filled 58% of the newly created jobs last year”

And the women — almost exclusively Democrats — slapped five and hugged in celebration.

It clearly threw Trump off, because even though he was talking about employment in general, the women took the spotlight to celebrate how many women were “employed” in Congress.

“You weren’t supposed to do that,” Trump quipped, trying to take it ins stride. Fortunately for Trump, his next scripted line was in acknowledgement of the women in Congress. Even then, it really highlighted the difference between the parties — one side of the chamber was lousy with women (dressed in white) as well as young men of many colors; the other side was mostly old white guys. One side was tomorrow; the other side was yesterday. Yesterday cheered Trump, but Tomorrow was awesome and exciting.

But that made it stand out all the more when the old white guys didn’t cheer Trump. That happened too, now and then. In the cutaways to Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader was conspicuously restrained, even for him. The section on trade was, not surprisingly, poorly received by GOP members. The parts about pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria were met with crickets. And what struck me as most significant was the awkward near-silence with which Republicans greeted Trump’s bizarre warning that the economy would be jeopardized by “investigations.”

As for the wall, Trump did not hint at declaring a national emergency. He made his usual case for the wall, and in doing so, demonized most immigrants, painting them, through anecdotes, as members of MS-13 or human traffickers of women. It was crazy racist, but nothing new as far as Trump goes.

At one point, he even said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” That line apparently pissed off his Nazi followers on Twitter, but they have no need to worry. After all, Trump killed an immigration deal — one he had agreed to, and that would have given him his wall while protecting DREAMers — because it didn’t cut legal immigration to the country.

But without a threat of a national emergency, it seems like he has lost his bark on “the wall”. I’m sure it moved nobody’s position.

Another weird moment was when Trump acknowledged a survivor of the Tree of Life Temple shooting in Pittsburgh (11 dead) as well as a police officer who was shot several times. Awkward — in the sense that it was a mass shooting, and not a word of gun control. Huge elephant in the room.

Finally, there was red meat for conservatives. He championed the fight against abortion, which is hypocritical of him because without abortion, he would have more children (let’s be honest). And he took a swipe at “socialism” — clearly setting the stage for the fight in 2020 against his opponents who want to set the highest marginal tax rate to 70% (you know, like how it was when Dwight Eisenhower ran a “socialist” country — not!)

I missed the Democratic response by Stacey Abrams, but by all accounts it was good. She laid out a specific agenda, and articulated the world envisioned by progressives.

Oh, the photo of the night — when Nancy golf clapped Trump after his speech was over.

A Trump Primary Challenge?

Ken AshfordElection 2020, RepublicansLeave a Comment

AP reports:

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has changed his party registration from Libertarian back to Republican as he mulls a possible primary challenge against President Donald Trump.

Weld served as a Republican governor from 1991 until 1997. He later became a Libertarian and ran for vice president on a ticket with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in the 2016 election.

The clerk’s office in Canton, Massachusetts, confirms on Tuesday that Weld recently changed his party registration to the GOP.

If he runs for president as a Republican, he could be Trump’s first challenger within the party.

Weld has not returned messages from The Associated Press.

This is getting good.

SDNY Subpoenas The Trump Inauguration Committee

Ken AshfordPolitical Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It looks like the Trump Administration, as we suspected, wasted no time in being corrupted, working from Day One on a clear pay-for-play scheme. That is now being investigated by the SDNY:

Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District have reached out to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee and plan to subpoena the organization for documents, sources with direct knowledge tell ABC News, indicating that even as the special counsel probe appears to be nearing an end, another investigation that could hamstring the president and his lawyers is widening.

The contact from the Southern District, which came from its public corruption section, is the latest activity focusing on Trump’s political fundraising both before and immediately after his 2016 election. Lawyers for the inauguration committee were contacted midday Monday and asked if they could accept a subpoena for documents from federal prosecutors, according to sources familiar.

The details of the request remain unclear, lawyers for the inauguration did not respond to ABC News.

Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen has been extensively interviewed by prosecutors in the Southern District office. Longtime family accountant and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg has agreed to cooperate, though the extent of his help is unknown.

The Trump family business has also been in contact with prosecutors, but sources familiar with those discussions would not spell out the specific topics covered.

Those involved in discussions surrounding the inaugural fund, a nonprofit tasked with organizing festivities surrounding the president’s swearing-in, declined to detail specific questions from investigators. Trump’s inaugural fund raised $107 million – the most in modern history.

A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

ABC News has reported previously interest by federal investigators in the foreign guests at the inaugural event, and possible contributions by foreign nationals, which would be prohibited. Among those who attended were Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who is now on the Treasury Department list of sanctioned oligarchs.

Last year, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had questioned several witnesses about millions of dollars in donations from donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, sources with direct knowledge previously told ABC News. One Mueller target, a political consultant named Sam Patten, acknowledged as part of a plea deal that he accepted $50,000 to buy tickets on behalf of a Ukrainian businessman who wanted to attend inaugural events.

Despite the amount of money raised, the festivities surrounding Trump’s swearing-in were far more modest in scale than past inaugural events. The non-profit group established to oversee the celebration hosted only three major events with some small intimate private affairs. The record breaking fundraising was double of President Barack Obama’s first inaugural.

The committee was chaired by President Trump’s longtime friend, Thomas Barrack. It has been previously reported Barrack sat for an interview with Mueller’s office in late 2017.

Recently, internal documents obtained by ABC News showed the committee spent more than $1.5 million at the Trump International Hotel in Washington ahead of the president’s 2017 swearing-in. It is part of an array of expenditures there and elsewhere that included more than $130,000 for customized seat cushions at two gala dinners for the president-elect, $10,000 to provide makeup to the servers at another formal dinner, and $2.7 million to a company that produced a Broadway-style rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” using Las Vegas showgirls flown in by Trump pal Steve Wynn for a private event.

(MORE: President Donald Trump’s inaugural fund spent lavishly at his DC hotel, new docs show)

Questions about the inaugural spending were first raised last year when tax filings disclosed the five largest vendors included payments of nearly $26 million to an event planning firm run by a one-time adviser and close friend of Melania Trump. The adviser, Stephanie Winston-Wolkoff, created a company called WIS Media Partners based in California that handled some of the festivities. That firm paid out contracts to other sub-contractors that were hired and used some of the funds to hire sub-contractors.

Winston-Wolkoff was also paid $1.62 million directly for her work, ABC News has previously reported. The tax filing showed that the committee spent $104 million of the $107 million it raised. By way of comparison, for the 2009 inauguration, then-president elect Barack Obama’s team raised roughly $53.2 million and reported spending about $51 million.

The Trump Inauguration also donated $5 million to various charities including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Smithsonian Institute among others.

This ostensibly has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, or the SDNY’s investigation into the Trump Organization’s “charitible” foundation, although there is probably some overlap where the Russians and money-laundering are involved.

Ah, remember those wistful halcyon days when the biggest Trump Inauguration scandal was crowd size?

The prize has to go to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who said that any corrupt activities surrounding President Donald Trump’s inauguration had “nothing to do with the Trump White House.”

“Those things that have taken place have absolutely nothing to do with the president,” she said. “They have everything to do with the fact that people are spending their lives doing nothing but trying to find negatives when, in fact, the president has been incredibly successful.”

Crimes are now “negatives”

SOTU STFU

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Tonight Trump gives his second State Of The Union speech, coming just after three weeks of government shutdown, and the threat of another shutdown over his stupid and unpopular border wall.

Trump claims to be looking forward to this, but behind-the-scenes, chaos is roiling the White House once again after a prolific leak to Axios on Sunday of Trump’s private schedule for the past three months. It showed the president spends 60 percent of his scheduled hours in what former Chief of Staff John F. Kelly dubbed “Executive Time.” 

We shouldn’t forget that this is essentially Trump’s 2020 Presidential Campaign launch. Despite his low approval ratings, Trump could be reelected in 2020 if he rallies his base and aggressively drives turnout in the swing states and blue states that he carried in 2016. And when Trump speaks tonight, he will, in effect, be giving a campaign speech and trying to give his hardcore supporters reasons to vote for him again. Trump will not only be reaching out to the Bible Belt during his State of the Union address—he will also be trying to convince Rust Belt voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio that they need to support him again in 2020.

Reportedly, Trump is going to make a pitch for bipartisanship, although he’s not exactly leading by example.

The tweet was in response to a speech Schumer made on the Senate floor on Monday in which he said “the state of our union is in need of drastic repair.”

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia last year, is set to give her party’s response.

Here are six things to watch for during Trump’s speech:

Will Trump double down on his demand for a wall?

As congressional negotiators try to avert another shutdown by making a deal on border security, Trump has made it clear that he could declare a national emergency if he doesn’t get a border wall out of it. How much of the speech will be Trump making his case to the American people yet again that the border is in crisis and the only way to solve it is by building a wall?

If he does make a strong case for the wall, how will Republicans respond? Many of them don’t want to have this fight any longer. Will they give a wall a rousing standing ovation as the Democrats sit stone-faced? Or will they just politely clap? That could say a lot about the mind-set of Republicans when it comes to building Trump’s wall.

We are learning that President Trump and Jared Kushner met with contractors at the White House late last week to discuss building the border wall. White House counsel Pat Cipollone was also present. This shows that despite several senior Senate Republicans raising concerns about the possibility of Trump bypassing Congress and using an emergency declaration to build his wall, he’s seriously considering doing so.

A human wall?

Will Democrats stand for anything?

The Trump White House is touting this State of the Union as a message of unity and bipartisanship. Those are themes that are difficult not to applaud for, but it’s hard to imagine any Democrats standing for anything Trump has to say. Maybe, maybe they’ll stand when he touts passage of the criminal justice bill and opioids package as examples of what can be accomplished when the parties work together.

But when he says, according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks, “Together we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make,” will any Democrats give that a standing ovation? The words are likely to ring hollow to most Democrats in the room.

A number of Democrats who boycotted Trump’s speech last year plan to do so again. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said in a statement: “The thought of spending Tuesday night in the House Chamber listening to the reckless, self-centered man who occupies the White House holds no interest for me. Just like in past years, I plan to skip a speech that will be filled with lies, deception and divisiveness.”

What will the expression on Pelosi’s face be?

Pelosi is the consummate professional, and she’s unlikely to show her emotions. But from her perch beside Vice President Pence, staring at the back of Trump’s head and into a sea of her colleagues, will she be able to avoid a smirk, an eye roll or a grimace? She’ll most likely sit there stoically, not betraying her inner monologue. But it’ll be fun to imagine what she’s thinking, especially since she’s still riding high after Trump allowed the government to reopen without his border wall money.

Who are the guests?

Members of Congress are allowed to bring guests to watch the State of the Union from the wrap-around balcony that overlooks the floor, and usually their invitations are symbolic of current politics. The same is true of the White House’s guests, who are invited to sit with the first lady to watch the address.

The Trump’s guests, announced Monday night, provide a hint at some topics the president will touch on in his speech. For instance, there’s a family whose loved ones were killed by an illegal immigrant; a man convicted on drug charges released early due to criminal justice reforms; a woman who struggled with opioid addiction; and a little boy named Joshua Trump who has been bullied at school because of his name.

Some of the guests announced by Democrats send a very pointed message to the president. There are two associated with the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre: Cameron Kasky, a student who survived the shooting and became an anti-gun-violence activist, and Manny Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed. Several lawmakers are bringing transgender service members. There’s an immigrant mother who was separated from her children at the border last summer, individuals furloughed during the shutdown and young immigrant “dreamers.” Washington Post colleague Elise Viebeck has more details about all the guests here.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is bringing Ana Maria Archila, one of the women who, in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh accusations, confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as he was getting into an elevator to tearfully describe to him their own experiences with sexual assault. After the encounter, carried live on television, Flake demanded a one-week FBI investigation into Kavanaugh before the Senate voted on his Supreme Court nomination. Flake ultimately supported him, but it was a watershed moment.

Speaking of Kavanaugh …

How will lawmakers greet Kavanaugh?

Assuming he attends, as most Supreme Court justices do, Kavanaugh will be in the chamber Tuesday night for Trump’s speech. Now, there’s a good chance he has no direct interaction with any Democrats. Typically, lawmakers who want face time with the principals who parade down the center aisle stake out a seat early in the day. I don’t imagine many Democrats are going to be falling over themselves to get a chance to shake Trump’s hand on national television. But just Kavanaugh’s presence could be uncomfortable for some. Additionally, how will Republicans greet him? Will there be a lot of back slapping and handshakes? And how will Kavanaugh respond to their greetings?

Will anything unexpected happen?

State of the Unions are pretty straightforward affairs. They follow the same script year after year, no matter who the president is. Trump’s first two joint-session addresses were by and large unexciting, save for when he led an extended standing ovation for a soldier’s recent widow. But otherwise they were cookie cutter. Trump read from a teleprompter. Republicans clapped. Democrats did not.

But with a new crop of lawmakers in the audience, and a broad spectrum of guests in the gallery with a lot of grievances, it’s not hard to imagine an outburst or other disturbance. Though probably not.