Originally Published: 1/14/2017
Trump Ties to Russia: Last week President Obama, president-elect Trump, and “congressional leaders” were briefed by intelligence operatives about classified documents which “included allegations that Russian operations claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump. . . The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative.” The dossier was apparently compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 intelligence officer (Guardian) who was hired to dig up dirt by anti-Trump Republicans. (Telegraph) (For a timeline of what happened, see NY Times.) This compromising information is “circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress, and other government officials.” But that ain’t all. “The 2-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” (CNN) Watch the CNN video releasing this information. Buzzfeed published the 2-page summary of the document, which is an addendum to the complete report. It says, in part: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting, and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance. . . [Trump] and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals. Former top Russian intelligence office claims FSB [the former KGB] has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.” For more on this, see the NY Times. Time has a piece on the “many, many, many” ties that Trump has to Russia as does CNN. For a summary of this and other Trump shenanigans, watch Stephen Colbert. (CBS News)
Discerning Truth: The Trump camp, of course, called CNN liars. (Politico) And Trump even refused to answer a CNN reporter’s questions at his press conference. (See video) CNN has responded. What we’re witnessing by the Trump camp is “gaslighting,” a term taken from the 1930’s play and 1940s movie in which a husband attempts to control his wife by tampering with her perception of reality - mainly by tinkering with the gas lights. (CNN) Joan Walsh, writing at The Nation, noted, “When Trump pits journalists against each other, he’s won.” This is what you’re seeing in the news and you’ll be seeing more. It’s going to get harder and harder to discern the truth.
Trump Debt: A new study by the Wall Street Journal found that companies at least partly owned by Trump are almost $1.8 billion in debt to more than 150 institutions. Trump previously declared that he owed $315 million to 10 different lenders, but this investigation found an additional $1.5 billion. Experts said that the high number of firms to which he owes money and the significant size of his debts, raises questions about potential conflicts of interest. (Wall Street Journal) Wells Fargo is the trustee of $282 million in loans to Trump and his companies and is also involved in a $950 million debt that one of Trump’s companies partly owns. Wells Fargo is currently under investigation (TWW, Wells Fargo, 10/1/16) and, since Trump will appoint the regulators, he will be in a position to negotiate his way out of paying his debt. Trump also owes money to MetLife, which is currently in a court case with the federal government “over attempts to regulate it more strictly.” He will be in a position to drop the court case. And Trump has also borrowed “significant sums” from the Bank of China. What effect will this have on foreign policy? (Independent)
Trump Business Plans: Trump announced his plan to shift his assets into a trust managed by his sons which he says will eliminate any potential conflicts of interest. (Washington Post) Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics, said Trump’s plan is “wholly inadequate.” He said, “This is not a blind trust. It’s not even close.” (Washington Post) By the way, Trump’s announcement was made in his first press conference since July in which he addressed many items. The Washington Post fact-checked 14 of the “more notable statements.”
Conflicts of Interest: Public Citizen has put up a list of dossiers on Trump’s nominees for his cabinet and the ties each have to corporations. Click on the person you’re interested in and up will pop information about that person and his/her ties to corporations.
Resist: The Arizona Legislative Advocacy Program, which publishes the weekly Legislative Alert, is compiling a 50-week strategy to resist what is happening in our country. While the strategy is geared toward Arizona, the suggestions are easily applied to any state. The recommendation for this week is to call the Office of Government Ethics and/or the Office of Congressional Ethics and urge them to press the issue that no one be appointed to the Cabinet or a top-level executive position until clearing an ethics review. And if you need help arguing with Trump supporters, Keith Olbermann has some great tips.
Financial Disclosures: The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) - which governs ethics in the Executive Branch - said there is “cause for alarm” if the Senate proceeds with confirmation hearings for some of Trump’s Cabinet nominees “whose financial and other paperwork has not been certified by the agency.” No vetting? (Roll Call) Walter Shaub, OGE director, sent a letter to leading Senate Democrats saying that the hearing schedule has “overwhelmed” his office and that it had “not completed ethics screening review on several nominees.” (The Hill)
Jared Kushner: Trump has named his son-in-law as his senior adviser “while a lawyer assisting the family said that Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, will not immediately take on a formal role.” Kushner, who will not take a salary, “is expected to have a broad portfolio that includes government operations, trade deals, and Middle East policy.” (Washington Post)
David Shulkin: Trump has named Shulkin as his Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin is a physician “who is currently serving in the Obama administration” as a VA undersecretary. He is not only the first holdover from the Obama administration, he will be the first VA Secretary to have no military experience. As undersecretary he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. (Washington Post)
Dina Powell: Trump named Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs executive, as a senior White House adviser. (Washington Post)
Jeff Sessions: Sessions has failed to disclose his ownership of oil interests on land in Alabama “as required by federal ethics rules.” “The Alabama records show that Sessions owns subsurface rights to oil and other minerals on more than 600 acres in his home state, some of which are adjacent to a federal wildlife preserve.” (Washington Post) Nevertheless, his confirmation hearings were held this week. The NY Times posted the hearing highlights. Senator Cory Booker (D, NJ) took the unprecedented step of a sitting senator testifying against another sitting senator in a confirmation hearing for a cabinet position. The Washington Post has a great piece on his testimony. And Think Progress posted 8 revelations from the hearings.
Rex Tillerson: At the same time Tillerson was appearing for confirmation hearings as Secretary of State, his former company, ExxonMobil, was “preparing to appear before a jury at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. . . There, the company will face allegations that security forces under its employ engaged in serious human rights abuses, including murder, torture, sexual violence, kidnapping, battery, assault, burning, arbitrary arrest, detention and false imprisonment. The complaint specifically names Rex Tillerson.” (In These Times) Public Citizen went over Tillerson’s documents with ExxonMobil which extricated him from his conflict of interest with that company. (TWW, Rex Tillerson, 1/7/17) It found a “discrepancy” in the filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). “The contract between Exxon and Tillerson says the CEO will forfeit all remaining assets in the trust if he works for the oil and gas industry in the next 10 years. But Exxon’s agreement with the [Northern Trust Company as] trustee says that Tillerson forfeits the trust assets if he engages in ‘competitive’ employment in the oil and gas industry - in other words, employment with any company other than Exxon.” The difference is that if Tillerson goes back to ExxonMobil after leaving the government, then he “retains a strong interest in Exxon. Not only would he want Exxon to perform well during his tenure as secretary of state, he’d have an incentive to advance the interests of the only company in the field where he could work - and still receive the huge trust payments - over the next 10 years. That’s a far cry from eliminating his interest in the company.” Tillerson was grilled this week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Nation said that his testimony was “witless, contradictory, and obfuscatory” and that it confirmed fears that he is “too conflicted, too ill-prepared, and too disengaged” with regard to diplomacy. In response to a question by Senator Robert Mendez (D, NJ) asking if Trump agrees with all the positions declared by Tillerson, he said, “The president-elect and I have not had the opportunity to discuss this specific issue or this specific area.”
Mad Dog Mattis: The retired Marine general resigned from the board of Theranos supposedly in preparation for his confirmation hearing as Secretary of Defense. (Washington Post) Or is he resigning because Theranos is in trouble? It’s laying off 40% of its employees “in what it called a ‘further re-engineering.’” Maybe he’s just a crappy manager. (Washington Post)
Cuba: President Obama is lifting the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that has allowed Cubans reaching U.S. soil to stay and receive American residency, “while sending home those intercepted at sea.” (Washington Post)
Kentucky: Governor Matt Bevin (R) signed bills that were passed in special session last Saturday. “The surprise emergency legislative session Saturday came after Republicans seized a supermajority in the House of Representatives, giving the Republicans control of the House, the Senate, and the governorship for the first time in Kentucky state history.” They passed a bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks and requires a woman to have an ultrasound prior to the abortion. They passed a right-to-work-for-less law. And they repealed a law that guaranteed higher wages for workers on publicly financed construction projects. Hundreds of demonstrators packed into the Capital building to protest. Watch the video. (Democracy Now!)
Maryland: Baltimore Gas and Electric employees voted to unionize under the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. There are about 1,419 workers. (Baltimore Sun)
Massachusetts: Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson offered to have his county inmates help build Trump’s wall in Mexico. (Boston Globe)
The Election: The Justice Department’s Inspector General is “launching a review into the FBI’s conduct” when Director James Comey announced that the Bureau was not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton and the follow-up announcement that they were looking into emails found on Michael Wiener’s computer. (Talk Media News) But Comey now won’t say if he’s investigating the contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. (Politico)
Gerrymandering: Obama “has decided to make the byzantine process of legislative redistricting a central political priority in his first years after the presidency.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder will lead the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, “a newly formed political group aimed at untangling the creatively drawn districts that have helped cement the Republican Party in power in Washington and many state capitals.” (NY Times)
REINS Act: This is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017. “With this legislation, Congress is granting itself unprecedented power to cater to big corporations that want to evade safety standards, pollute the environment, and otherwise game the system to their benefit.” (American Progress) Republicans are selling it as a way to keep regulations and their costs in check (The Hill) but it really hands over the “reins” of power to big corporations. The bill has passed the House and will now head to the Senate. (Truth-Out)
Holman Rule: This is a 1876 rule that “empowers any member of Congress to propose amending an appropriations bill to single out a government employee or cut a specific program.” This is a rule, not a law, and has not been used in decades - many decades. But House Republicans reinstated it. (Washington Post)
ACA: Republicans don’t want you to know what repealing the Affordable Care Act will cost. In the same rules package where they tried to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (TWW, Ethics, 1/7/17), there was a provision that exempts the repeal from the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 10-year cost analysis. However, an independent study by the Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health estimated that the repeal may cost the states trillions of dollars in lost revenue and output. This is primarily due to the repeal of the Medicaid expansion. Without a viable alternative, the repeal would result in a $140 billion cut in federal funding by 2019, which in turn would trigger “losses in employment, economic activity, and state and local revenues.” But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis found that repealing the ACA would “lavish” Medicare tax cuts on 400 of the highest-income households. “Each would get an average tax cut of about $7 million a year.” Nevertheless, the Senate passed a budget resolution 51 to 48 instructing the House and the Senate committees to begin work on legislation to repeal major portions of the ACA. Senator Rand Paul (R, KY) was the only Republican voting with the Democrats. (Roll Call) Guess the House was way ahead of them because Thursday they passed, 227 to 198 along party lines with 9 Republicans joining the Dems, the same budget measure allowing for repeal of parts of the ACA. (Washington Post)
Amendments: There were several amendments to the above budget resolution, a process called “vote-a-rama.” “While these votes are non-binding, the exercise provides an opportunity for senators to show where their colleagues stand on a number of key issues.” Republicans voted against the amendments that would: Protect people with pre-existing conditions; Let children stay on parents’ plans until age 26; Maintain contraception coverage; Keep Medicaid expansion in place; Protect children on Medicaid of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and Protect veterans’ health care. (Think Progress) Senators Bernie Sanders (I, VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D, MN) proposed an amendment to allow the import of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada where they can cost as much as 50% less than in the U.S. It failed 52 to 46 with 12 Republicans voting for it and 13 Democrats voting against it. Those Dems include Cory Booker (NJ) who claimed that same old, worn-out crap that Canadian safety standards “aren’t up to snuff.” Republicans voting for it included Rand Paul (KY), John McCain (AZ), and Ted Cruz (TX). (District Sentinel) Paste has a complete list of the Dems voting against the proposition. It’s no surprise. These are the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party who frequently vote with Republicans.
Dakota Access: Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chief Dave Archambault has started a petition asking the Army Corps of Engineers to officially begin the Environmental Impact Statement process before Trump is inaugurated on January 20th. (The Indigenous Peoples) To add your name to the Petition, click here.