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Forensic News Roundup: DOJ provides false statements in court

July 28, 2020 9:19 am Adrienne Cobb

DOJ provides false statements in court

Trusted Traveler Program

Federal lawyers admitted in court that DHS officials made false statements in a bid to justify expelling New York residents from programs that let United States travelers speed through borders and airport lines. The Trump administration previously told the courts that New York was endangering national security by refusing to share information about immigrants with federal immigration authorities. However, other states had the same rules and were not singled out.

The filing said DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection “deeply regret the foregoing inaccurate or misleading statements and apologize to the court and (New York) for the need to make these corrections at this late stage.”

It further acknowledged that the false information had undermined its own argument that it “is not able to assure itself of an applicant’s low-risk status because New York fails to share relevant DMV information” and that as a result, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf “has decided to restore New York residents’ access to” the program, “effective immediately.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday threatened to sue the Trump administration for damages over the ban from the Trusted Traveler Program… I believe Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli have possible criminal liability. I believe there is civil liability. It was a clear abuse of government power for political purposes,” he said at a press conference in Albany.

“It is impossible that the Department of Homeland Security just figured that out yesterday afternoon,” Cuomo said, adding that it is widely known. “What happened yesterday is they got caught… I think the Congress should investigate it because they lied and they did a lot of damage.”

The House Committee on Homeland Security is opening an investigation into false statements made by DHS (Under Secretary performing the duties of) Secretary Chad Wolf and then Customs and Border Protection official John Wagner. The two told Congress the same lies they told the courts.

“The decision to exclude New York from Trusted Traveler programs always appeared to be political retribution and now we know it was,” said Chairs Thompson and Rice. “It appears DHS officials made false statements to Congress – an intolerable turn of events for a Department charged with enforcing Federal law. Through our investigation, we will seek to understand why this happened and determine who is responsible. We expect that DHS officials will cooperate fully, completely, and in a timely manner with the Committee’s investigation.”

The most plausible explanation for singling out New York has always been that Trump wanted to punish the state for adopting a sanctuary state policy…

On Feb. 4, Mr. Trump criticized New York in his State of the Union address for not letting the police detain undocumented immigrants until federal agents could pick them up for deportation proceedings, and he blamed the city’s sanctuary policies for the rape and murder of a 92-year-old Queens woman by an undocumented immigrant who was accused in the crimes.

The next day, Chad F. Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary and a favorite of Mr. Trump’s for his hard-line stance on enforcement matters, said on Fox News that New Yorkers would be barred from the travel programs because of the sanctuary policies. (NYT)

In fact, just a week before the Trusted Traveler ban was put into effect, the DHS policy office wrote a memo outlining the plan to collect information on immigrants and retaliate against states that limit access to records.

Of course, Trump also had reason to want to pressure New York over the state’s legal action against him… Trump declared the state must end “unnecessary lawsuits and harassment” when he met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sort out a compromise on the trusted traveler issue. One of these lawsuits was led by D.A. Vance and recently resulted in a SCOTUS win for the state.

  • Note the timing: The ban went into effect a week after Senate Republicans acquitted Trump of improperly pressuring Ukraine. In other words, he immediately pivoted to trying to impose a quid pro quo on New York. Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), one of the House managers who prosecuted Trump’s impeachment in the Senate, accused the president of “expanding his abuse of power to blackmailing U.S. states (threatening millions of people he supposedly works for). In this case, he’s holding New York state hostage to try to stop investigations into his prior tax fraud.”

Michael Cohen jailed

Over two weeks ago now, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was sent back to prison by the DOJ under suspicious circumstances. Cohen’s lawyers said the government wanted him to sign papers that would have limited his ability to write and promote a book about Trump.

Minutes into a hearing about Cohen’s re-arrest, federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein said he didn’t believe prosecutors’ version of events. “How can I take any other inference other than it was retaliatory?” Hellerstein asked, adding that he had never seen the no-media condition in 21 years on the bench. “Nor is it feasible to believe that [the probation officer] was not asking for something like this because he had some instruction,” he added, suggesting a top official had intervened in the case.

Judge Hellerstein ruled that Cohen had been denied home confinement because he is publishing a book that reveals unflattering details about the president. Cohen was released back to home confinement on Friday.

“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory,” the judge said. “And it’s retaliation because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others.”

Past instances

As a reminder, federal judge Jesse Furman called a memorandum by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and testimony by Ross’ deputy chief of staff and director of policy “misleading, if not false” in the case about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the Trump administration’s rationales for adding a citizenship question in 2020 were “pretextual,” meaning made-up to hide the real reason.

Attorney General Barr’s abrupt firing of US Atty Geoffrey Berman and his intervention in politically charged cases (like Roger Stone’s) have further eroded any trust in the DOJ.

“They are politicizing an office that for more than 200 years has remained apolitical, and are undermining confidence in our criminal justice system,” more than 100 former SDNY prosecutors wrote in an open letter [the weekend that Berman was fired].

Census, immigration, and apportionment

Trump signed a memorandum last Tuesday that would exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in congressional districts when district lines are redrawn next year. Many experts agree the president is unlikely to be successful, as the Constitution directs that congressional representation be apportioned based on “the whole Number of … Persons,” not just citizens.

  • Related: Last month, the White House installed two political appointees in the studiously nonpartisan agency responsible for the 2020 census, and officials there aren’t happy.
  • Further reading: “The twists and turns in Trump’s executive order on immigrants and the census,” WaPo

The Washington Post editorial board writes that the legality of the order is not the point… “He is more interested in partisan political posturing on immigration and, especially in this case, frightening migrants without papers so badly that they will hesitate to respond to the Census Bureau’s attempts to count them,” they write.

Like many of the president’s actions and statements on immigration, this latest order is meant largely for the consumption of nativists in his GOP base, for whom the growing numbers of Hispanic and other immigrants, and their U.S.-born children, are an electoral nightmare. Rather than reckon with America’s diversity, they use every means at their disposal — suppressing the vote, ending asylum, impeding legal immigration — to turn back the clock. It’s a project doomed to fail, but Mr. Trump is all in.

Hypothetically, if the administration succeeded in excluding undocumented immigrants, California, Texas, and Florida would each lose one extra House seat (compared to the calculation using the current method). Alabama, Minnesota, and Ohio would gain a seat.

  • Note, also, that the apportionment is also a basis for determining electoral votes for the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections and for allocating federal funding.

A coalition of 35 U.S. states, cities, and counties sued President Donald Trump on Friday over his apportionment directive. Among the mostly Democratic-leaning plaintiffs are New York state, the most populous plaintiff, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

  • The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who heard the NY-based lawsuits over the now-blocked citizenship question and ruled against the Trump administration.

Trump enrichment train

Trump pushed his ambassador to the United Kingdom to try to secure the British Open golf tournament for his club, Trump Turnberry resort, in Scotland. Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson IV told “multiple colleagues” of the request in February 2018. Despite being advised not to, Johnson raised the idea with the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell. It is unknown how Mundell responded.

The ambassador’s deputy, Lewis A. Lukens, advised him not to do it, warning that it would be an unethical use of the presidency for private gain…the episode left Mr. Lukens and other diplomats deeply unsettled…[Lukens] emailed officials at the State Department to tell them what had happened, colleagues said. A few months later, Mr. Johnson forced out Mr. Lukens, a career diplomat who had earlier served as ambassador to Senegal, shortly before his term was to end.

  • Robert Johnson is a billionaire, co-owner of the New York Jets, and major donor to Trump and the Republican party. The State Department inspector general is investigating Johnson for alleged sexist and racist comments he made to embassy staff.
  • Reminder: Last year, Trump chose his National Doral resort in Miami as the site of a Group of 7 meeting, but later changed the venue after public backlash. He urged Vice President Mike Pence to stay at his family’s golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland. He has visited his own properties 377 times as president, not only advertising them but requiring the Secret Service to pay up to $650 per night per room. Each trip to Mar-a-Lago alone is estimated to cost taxpayers $3.4 million.
  • Asked about the report last week, Trump responded by promoting his resort: “No I never spoke to Woody Johnson about that, about Turnberry. Turnberry is a highly respected course, as you know, one of the best in the world.” (video)

The Department of Homeland Security paid more than $1,600 for a dinner at the Trump Hotel D.C.’s steakhouse in February 2019… That payment was one of 10 the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense made at Trump properties totaling more than $5,500 between January 2017 and March 2019.

The Trump campaign’s payments to the Trump Organization for a week-long “donor retreat” at Mar-a -Lago earlier this year look awfully similar to money laundering, says former IRS investigator Martin Sheil. Receipts show $380,000 in payments over two days, broken into chunks of $10,000 and less—which happens to be the reporting requirement for receipt of cash payments in a trade or business to FinCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network).

The Trump Organization’s record of the payment raises many questions I’m familiar with from my 30-year career as an investigator at the IRS: Is the $380,000 income? If so, what was delivered in exchange for it? Were these payments for past services rendered or for future expected returns? Who were the donors? Why didn’t the Trump Organization just report the entire $380,000 in total? Why break that down into separate transactions? Why was each payment identically described as “Facility Rental/ Catering Services”? Is something being disguised here?

  • Further reading: Donald Trump has not given a dime to his reelection campaign, opting instead to fund the entire effort with his donors’ money. His business, meanwhile, has continued to charge the campaign for things like food, lodging, and rent. The result is that $2.2 million of contributions from other people has turned into $2.2 million of revenue for Trump.

Senate Republicans included $1.75 billion in their coronavirus relief bill toward the construction of a new D.C. headquarters for the FBI, saying the White House insisted on its inclusion. Trump has a financial interest in keeping the HQ in downtown DC, rather than a secure campus in the suburbs that was envisioned before he took office.

”[The current HQ is] about a block from the Trump International Hotel, which the president still leases, operates, and profits from. If the current FBI headquarters were redeveloped in its existing space, it’d benefit Trump’s investment. Just as importantly, keeping the bureau in its current home would guarantee that a competing hotel wouldn’t go in at that location.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer: “They managed to have enough money for $2 billion for the FBI headquarters that benefits Trump hotel and they say they have no money for food assistance. What the heck is going on?”

  • Shortly after entering office, Trump abruptly canceled a plan 10-years in development to move the FBI out of its current, crumbling building. Subsequent reporting revealed that “Trump [had] become personally involved in plotting a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington.”

Further reading:

  • Trump has reported holding 14 loans on 12 proper­ties. At least six of those loans—about $479 million in debt—are due over the next four years. Some are guaranteed by Trump himself, meaning a creditor could come after his personal assets if he defaults.
  • Trump publicly criticizes Beijing and has ordered federal agencies to buy American, but the Trump Organization continues to import tons of Chinese goods. Two tons of wooden and glass showcase cabinets were shipped to the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles from Shanghai just two months ago.
  • “Some guests, employees at Trump properties flout face-covering mandates,” ABC News
  • An internal White House email obtained by CREW shows that in December 2019, the top White House ethics official determined that it was “reasonably necessary” for Jared Kushner to divest his interest in Cadre, a real estate investment platform, in order for Kushner to do his job at the White House. But CNBC recently reported that Kushner is not going to divest.

Appointments and nominees

The White House is pushing the Department of Defense to hire a former National Security Council staffer who has repeatedly pushed fringe conspiracy theories on Twitter and in media appearances.

Rich Higgins was fired from the National Security Council in 2017 for sending a conspiratorial memo…claiming that a “deep state” band of officials and movements were opposing President Donald Trump. He defined the opposition as the media, Islamists, Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, the United Nations and cultural Marxists leading a coordinated effort to delegitimize and subvert the President.

John Gibbs, Trump’s nominee to be director of the Office of Personnel Management, spread the conspiracies about Democrats taking part in Satanic rituals, called Democrats the party of ‘Islam’ and ‘gender-bending,’ and defended a banned alt-right and anti-Semitic Twitter user.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit blocked USAGM chief Michael Pack from taking over a government-funded nonprofit organization that fosters technology aimed at undermining internet censorship around the globe.

Trump appointed pro-authoritarian “Catholic theocrat” Adrian Vermeule to a three-year term on the Administrative Conference of the U.S.which is an independent federal agency charged with recommending improvements to administrative process and procedure. More on Vermeule here.

Despite being assigned to one of the safest countries in the world, Jeffrey Ross Gunter has been “paranoid” about his security since coming to Iceland last year. The former dermatologist wanted the State Department to obtain special permission from the Icelandic government for him to have a firearm, wanted door-to-door armored car service, and entertained the idea of wearing a “stab-proof vest.”

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