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Forensic News Roundup: Gaetz under investigation, Trump probes advance

March 31, 2021 7:09 am Adrienne Cobb

Tracking Trump

Trump investigations

The Manhattan D.A.’s office interviewed the ex-daughter-in-law of Trump Organization CEO Allen Weissleberg and met with Michael Cohen for the eighth time last week. Jennifer Weisselberg told NBC News that she has turned over documents and spoken with investigators “multiple times.” Vance’s office has also recently sent new subpoenas to local governments involved in Trump’s Seven Springs property development, which is the subject of a tax and insurance fraud probe.

“Jennifer Weisselberg is committed to speaking the truth…” her attorney, Duncan Levin, told Insider in a statement… “Jennifer refuses to be silenced any longer by those who are conspiring to prevent her from sharing what she has learned over the past 25 years,” Levin added.

Vance’s team is reportedly “combing through millions of pages of newly acquired records” to identify witnesses to testify before a jury in a potential criminal case against Trump. “Prosecutors are looking to gather information and testimony from bankers, bookkeepers, real-estate consultants and others close to the Trump Organization who could provide insights on its dealings,” according to Reuters.

Two grand juries are now looking into Trump and associate’s attempts to interfere in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. Fulton County D.A. Fani Wilson told the Daily Beast that jurors in these secret proceedings will soon be asked to issue subpoenas for documents and recordings related to the Trump investigation. Her team is also reportedly looking at the possibility of applying “false statement” charges to Rudy Giuliani for presenting false evidence to Georgia state legislators on two occasions.

The NAACP lawsuit against Donald Trump for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election is delayed after an unknown person signed the legal notification when Trump was served. The lawsuit, brought by the NAACP and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), alleges that Trump and Rudy Giuliani violated the Ku Klux Klan Act by conspiring to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory. When the plaintiffs attempted to serve Trump in February, someone identified as “Ricky” signed for the certified mail parcel. Trump now claims no one knows who Ricky is and, therefore, the service was not “legally effective.”

  • Note: There is also a second lawsuit against Trump and Giuliani for allegedly violating the KKK Act, brought by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). It goes farther than the first, though, in also declaring that the Jan. 6 rally-speakers violated a D.C. anti-terrorism act by incited the riot.

The House Oversight Committee is asking the White House and over a dozen agencies to turn over all Trump administration documents and communications relating to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The request covers the period from December 2020 to Inauguration Day and includes the Office of the Vice President, National Archives and Records Administration, FBI, DHS, DNI, House Sergeant at Arms, Senate Sergeant at Arms, and Capitol Police, among others.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requested detailed financial records on Trump’s D.C. hotel – located in a federally owned building – hoping the Biden administration will provide what Trump’s would not. During Trump’s time in office, international businessmen, foreign diplomats, Republican operatives, and wealthy donors patronized his high-priced hotel located just blocks from the White House.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), the chair of a subcommittee that oversees the hotel, signed the letter along with DeFazio. She said that, even with Trump out of office, the House is still determined to find out how the hotel was run and whether Trump was given any undue benefits while he was effectively his own landlord.

“I’m not going to let go of it,” Titus said. She said the hotel is a federally owned asset, and she wants to see whether it’s being well cared for. “It’s still taxpayer dollars that are at risk,” Titus said. If the hotel’s business goes south, she said, “We don’t want taxpayers to get left holding the bag.”

Employees at Trump’s Chicago tower improperly received early access to COVID-19 vaccines, at a hospital whose chief operating officer owns a $2.7 million condo in Trump’s building. Loretto Hospital, located in a majority-Black neighborhood nine miles from Trump’s downtown tower, issued a statement saying executives had been “mistaken” about when hotel employees were eligible to be vaccinated. However, Lotetto’s COO, Anosh Ahmed, not only owns a condo in the tower – he also reportedly told friends that he had vaccinated Eric Trump at a time when vaccines were limited to people over 65 years old and other vulnerable populations.

In a memo to staff, Loretto Hospital President George Miller said he authorized his team earlier this month “to vaccinate 72 predominantly Black and brown restaurant, housekeeping and other hotel support personnel at Trump International Chicago.” …Restaurant workers and hotel staff are not yet eligible for vaccine doses in Chicago. A public health department spokesman earlier acknowledged that the city is investigating the report.

  • Update: COO Anosh Ahmed resigned on Wednesday.

Trump money

The organizer of the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the insurrection is hosting a “Save America Summit” at Trump’s Doral golf course next month. Amy Kremer’s Women for America First group spent the weeks before the insurrection touring America, spreading election lies and inciting violence. Kremer filed the permit for the rally that led thousands to stage a coup attempt at the Capitol, funded in part by Alex Jones and Publix supermarket heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli. Now, Kremer is bringing money to struggling Trump property Doral, charging $5,000 for a ticket to meet VIPs like Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

A Florida-based dog rescue charity with links to Lara Trump has spent $2 million at Trump properties over the past seven years – including $225,000 at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. Big Dog Ranch Rescue has come under fire for continuing to put money into Trump’s pocket after he supported the Jan. 6 insurrection. Since the story was published, Big Dog Rescue has seen some donors withdraw their pledges.

“[Trump properties] give us amazing discounted rates, they provide a beautiful venue for us and have gone out of their way to help us raise money,” [Big Dog Ranch Rescue President Lauree] Simmons said. “To cancel our event there, that would be political.”

Eric Trump is pushing Republicans in the Florida state legislature to change a law to allow the family’s Doral golf resort to operate as a casino, potentially saving the struggling property. Since the pandemic, revenue at the club has plummeted by 44 percent. While a bill has not formally been submitted yet, one under discussion would “allow developers to transfer gambling licenses to properties in areas where casinos have long been prohibited and bar local municipal governments from intervening”. Florida currently limits gambling to tribal casinos and racetracks.

Further reading:

“Trump’s Mar-a-Lago partially closed due to COVID outbreak,” AP. “Mar-a-Lago Hosted Wild Parties Just Before Its COVID Outbreak. And It’s Not Stopping.” Daily Beast.

“Trump hotels have been dropped by a major luxury travel agency network,” Washington Post

“Scam PACs Reportedly Duping Trump Supporters Again: Some robocalls are soliciting donations to get Donald Trump back on Twitter,” HuffPost.

Future of Trumpism

Trump ally Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) announced his entry into the Alabama race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby at an event at a gun range last week alongside former White House advisor Stephen Miller. Brooks spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, telling attendees that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” He was one of the first lawmakers to say they’d object to the electoral count in an attempt to reverse Biden’s win.

“This time I have an established reputation that people can discern that, ‘Yep, Mo Brooks has been beside Donald Trump’s side through thick and thin over the last four years trying to advance the Make America Great Again agenda,’ ” Brooks said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Trump issued his first post-presidency endorsement last week, for Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), who is challenging Trump’s frequent foil in Georgia: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Republicans in the state seem to agree that Raffensperger’s re-election chances are doomed after refusing to give in to Trump’s requests to overturn the election. Since then, Trump has declared all out war against the Secretary:

“Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Trump said in a statement through his new campaign organization, Save America PAC.

Hice was one of the 147 Republican members of Congress to object to the electoral count on January 6 and one of the 126 who unsuccessfully urged the Supreme Court to stop several key states from certifying Biden’s victory.

Pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood announced he intends to run for Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party, challenging current officeholder Scott McKissick. Unlike in Raffensperger’s race, incumbent McKissick already secured Trump’s endorsement in February and has strong allies in the state party, including Sen. Lindsey Graham. Wood is best known for his conspiracy-laden efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. In one particularly unhinged rant on Twitter, Wood claimed that Chief Justice John Roberts had committed child rape and child murder; he was later permanently suspended from the platform for tweets related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Further reading:

Trump’s secret sit-down with Ohio candidates turns into ‘Hunger Games’: The former president summoned four candidates for the state’s open Senate seat in a session that resembled the boardroom scenes on “The Apprentice.”

Lara Trump Joins Fox News, First Official Merger of Fox and Trump Family

Matt Gaetz

According to a New York Times report, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for possibly having had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paying for her to travel with him. The DOJ began the investigation last summer, under the purview of then-Attorney General Bill Barr. It has continued for about six months, looking into whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws that “make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.”

The probe into Gaetz stemmed from the prosecution of Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who is facing numerous charges including stalking a political opponent, creating fake IDs, and sex trafficking of a child.

Federal prosecutors charge that Greenberg used his access as an elected official to a confidential state database to look up information about a girl between the ages of 14 and 17 with whom he was engaged in a “sugar daddy” relationship. Greenberg also is charged with producing “a false identification document and to facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,” according to federal indictments filed with the U.S. Attorney’s office in August.

Several former employees told the Orlando Sentinel that Greenberg often mentioned how he and Gaetz were close friends, and that the congressman would often visit him at his Lake Mary home.

Gaetz first took to Twitter to deny the report, saying that the story was “planted” as part of “an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official”. He told the New York Times that he has “a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”

Later, he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show, in what the latter described as “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted” (clip). In the middle of denying the report’s accuracy, Gaetz seemed to implicate Carlson as a witness in the sex trafficking case:

“You and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you’ll remember her,” Gaetz told Tucker Carlson. “She was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that she could face trouble. So, I do believe that there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime,” (clip).

Carlson denied remembering the woman or the dinner Gaetz mentioned.

One of the NYT reporters behind the article, Katie Benner, told Rachel Maddow that the former DOJ official Gaetz named as being involved in the extortion plot was not actually involved in the investigation, at all (clip). Benner also points out that Barr – a Trump ally like Gaetz – thought the probe into Gaetz’s potential sex trafficking was important enough to continue.

The Courts

Two Capitol Police officers sued former President Donald Trump yesterday for inciting his supporters into attacking them and the Capitol on January 6. Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby assert in court documents that Trump “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” the “insurrectionist mob” for months in the lead up to the assault (PDF). They also fault Trump’s “failure on that date to take timely action to stop his followers from continued violence at the Capitol”.

The officers ask the DC Court for compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages. Both cite physical and mental injury they endure at the hands of the insurrectionists spurred on by Trump:

During the attack, Officer Hemby, an 11-year veteran of the Capitol Police, was outside the building, crushed against the side and sprayed with chemicals that burned his eyes, skin and throat, the complaint said. One member of the mob screamed that he was “disrespecting the badge.” Officer Hemby remains in physical therapy for neck and back injuries that he sustained on Jan. 6 and “has struggled to manage the emotional fallout from being relentlessly attacked,” according to the complaint.

Officer Blassingame, a 17-year veteran of the force, suffered head and back injuries during the riot, the complaint said, and experienced back pain, depression and insomnia afterward. “He is haunted by the memory of being attacked, and of the sensory impacts — the sights, sounds, smells and even tastes of the attack remain close to the surface,” the complaint said. “He experiences guilt of being unable to help his colleagues who were simultaneously being attacked; and of surviving where other colleagues did not.”

The New York Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos’ defamation case against Donald Trump can continue. The case stems from statements made by Trump in 2016 calling Zervos a liar after she accused him of sexually assaulting her years earlier. Trump’s lawyers tried to argue that state courts are not authorized to hear cases against a sitting president, an issue that is no longer relevant with Trump as a private citizen again.

The case could yield the first deposition of Mr. Trump since he took office in January 2017, compelling him to testify about his behavior during the period of time in 2007 and 2008 when he and Ms. Zervos were in contact, as well as during his first campaign… Mr. Trump might also be compelled to testify, under oath, about his responses to other accusations of sexual misconduct.

Southern District of New York Judge Paul Gardephe threw out a broad non-disclosure agreement Trump’s 2016 campaign used to try to silence a former employee. Jessica Denson worked as a Hispanic outreach director for Trump in 2016, later accusing the campaign of abusive treatment and sexual harassment. The campaign sued her for allegedly breaching the confidentiality agreement, which Gardephe found to be “not reasonable.”

Technically, Gardephe’s decision applies only to Denson, barring the campaign from enforcing the NDA against her. But her attorneys said Tuesday they think the decision effectively nullifies all the NDAs the Trump campaign has issued… “From our perspective, it’s really not about politics,” Langford said. “No one should have to give up their free speech rights or swear allegiance to a candidate forever just to get a job with or volunteer on a campaign.”

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop was charged on Friday with five criminal counts for drunk driving and fleeing the police on March 16. According to the criminal complaint, Suellentrop was going 90 miles an hour in a 65-miles-per-hour zone, evading a police roadblock and driving the wrong way on highways through Topeka in an attempt to avoid arrest. While he has given his legislative duties to other lawmakers, Suellentrop has so far refused to resign and other Republicans have not taken action to expel him.

Dominion Voting Systems added to its numerous lawsuits last week, filing a defamation suit against Fox News for spreading false claims that the company altered the result of the 2020 election. “Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process,” the company wrote, asking the courts for at least $1.6 billion in damages. Last month, Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox and named anchors Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro as defendants.

  • Dominion has also sued pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. It has sent letters to preserve evidence and warning of potential litigation to Newsmax, One America News, and pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood, among others.
  • Giuliani tried “for nearly a week” to dodge the Dominion lawsuit: “After not responding to requests to waive service, Mr. Giuliani evaded in-person service of process for nearly a week. It took numerous attempts, at both his home and office, before we were able to successfully serve Mr. Giuliani on February 10.”
  • Powell also hid from Dominion’s process server: “Powell evaded service of process for weeks, forcing Dominion to incur unnecessary expenses for extraordinary measures to effect service, including hiring private investigators and pursuing Powell across state lines.”

In responding to Dominion’s defamation lawsuit, pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell told the court that “no reasonable persons” would take her rantings as “truly statements of fact”. The strategy is similar to that successfully employed by Fox News in a defamation case against Tucker Carlson. However, unlike Carlson, Powell pursued her false claims in other courts of law across the nation. In Michigan, for instance, a judge dismissed her allegations of widespread fraud as “nothing but speculation and conjecture”.

The Arizona Republican Party was ordered to pay the state $18,000 in attorneys’ fees for acting in “bad faith” when it sought to delay certification of election results last November. However, the Secretary of State’s Office says the ruling covers only a fraction of the $150,000 it spent defending itself from eight election-related lawsuits in 2020. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah said it was the GOP’s lawsuit, not the ballot counting procedure, that “cast false shadows on the election’s legitimacy.”

A three-judge appellate panel reinstated a guilty verdict against Michael Flynn’s ex-business partner, finding that a lower court judge erred in throwing out the jury’s conviction. In July 2019, former Flynn partner Bijan Rafiekian was convicted by a Virginia jury on two counts of violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act during his work on behalf of Turkey. Flynn and Rafiekian attempted to have an elderly Muslim dissident extradited from the United States to face charges in Turkey. George W. Bush appointee Judge Anthony Trenga, of the Eastern District of Virginia, dismissed the conviction months later, claiming “the evidence was insufficient.”

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Trenga, writing that “[a] reasonable jury could conclude that Rafiekian and Alptekin conspired to act subject to Turkey’s direction”. The panel – made up of both Democratic and Republican appointees – could see its decision appealed to the full Circuit bench.

Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he signed a sweeping anti-abortion bill into law solely to give the Supreme Court the chance the overturn Roe v. Wade. “That was the whole design of the law. It is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now,” Hutchinson said. “I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.” The Arkansas law would only allow abortion in cases where it’s necessary to save the life or preserve the health of the fetus or mother; there are no exceptions in situations of rape or incest.

Further reading:

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) lost a lawsuit filed against her for blocking critics on Twitter; she was ordered to pay $10,000 in legal fees to the PAC that won the case.

Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Twitter Probe Is a ‘Profound Threat’ to Free Speech Online, Rights Groups Tell Court

Judge lets Austin keep mask mandate in legal battle with Texas AG Ken Paxton

  • Related: When Texas ended its mask mandate, the event cancellations started — and the losses are adding up

Florida to feds: Allow cruise ships to operate or we’ll sue

Miscellaneous Justice stories

New York’s attorney general’s office has joined forces with Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance in investigating Steve Bannon for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from “We Build the Wall” donors. Bannon and three others were arrested by federal authorities last year. While Bannon was pardoned by Trump, his co-defendants were not. Vance can charge Bannon with state-level crimes, that are immune to presidential pardons, without triggering a double jeopardy clause because Bannon was never convicted at the federal level.

“The AG is working hand-in-hand with the DA’s office in leading this investigation,” one person said. New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) “has been looking at Bannon for a while,” the person added.

The Department of Defense’s inspector general has finished its investigation into Michael Flynn after a years-long delay, sending its report to the Army for review. The Acting Secretary of the Army may decide to take action against Flynn, which could include tens of thousands of dollars in financial penalties, for accepting money from Russian and Turkish entities without obtaining the proper approval.

Further reading: Former Florida state senator charged in spoiler candidate scheme

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