Forensic News Roundup: Trump prepares for post-presidency

November 25, 2020 7:25 am By

Transition

After weeks of delay, General Services Administration (GSA) chief Emily Murphy authorized the start of the presidential transition. However, in a letter to Biden, Murphy does not address him as “president-elect” and does not explicitly express “ascertainment” that Biden and Harris won the election. Instead, Murphy skips over that standard part of all transition approvals, under the Presidential Transition Act (compare to the GSA letter to President-elect Obama). It is unclear if this will have any practical effects on the transition.
In a pair of tweets, Trump acknowledged the transition has begun – probably the closest he’ll come to “conceding.” Trump also referenced the “thousands of threats” Murphy says she received in her letter to Biden (which was an odd thing to include in an ascertainment letter):

I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country. She has been harassed, threatened, and abused – and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good… …fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.

Shortly before Muphy’s decision, the statewide canvassing board in Michigan voted 3 to 0 to approve the election results, with one Republican abstaining, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected five Trump campaign lawsuits seeking to invalidate ballots.
The New York Times reports that top aides to Trump spoke to him following these losses, telling him it was time to move on:

But in conversations in recent days that intensified Monday morning, top aides — including Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel; and Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer — told the president the transition needed to begin. He did not need to say the word “concede,” they told him…


Nominees and Appointees

The Senate on Tuesday failed to advance the nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by a 47–50 vote. With Sens. Grassley and Rick Scott contracting Covid-19, Romney and Collins voting against her nomination, and Harris returning to vote, Shelton’s confirmation was doomed. McConnell switched his vote to opposing in order to keep the option open to bring her nomination to the floor in the future.

  • Even some Republicans admit that Shelton is not fit to work at the world’s most powerful central bank. Her nomination has been condemned by hundreds of economists and Fed alumni, including prominent Republicans and at least seven Nobel laureates.

Michael Ellis, a White House lawyer accused of serious ethical misconduct in the Ukraine scandal, has been picked by Trump to be senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council (NSC). “Acting on orders from top NSC lawyer John Eisenberg — Ellis told officials in the NSC’s executive secretariat to move the transcript of Trump’s now infamous July 25 call with the Ukrainian president to a more highly classified server, according to testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.”

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Democrat on the armed services committee, have written to the inspector general of the Defense Department demanding an investigation into Ellis’ installation.

Since losing his reelection bid earlier this month, President Donald Trump has appointed three men with well-documented white nationalist ties to government roles:

  • Darren Beattie was a White House speechwriter fired in 2018 after it was revealed that he spoke at a white nationalist conference; 10 days ago, Trump appointed him to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, whose duties include commemorating the Holocaust.
  • Trump appointed Jason Richwine — a policy analyst pushed out of a conservative think tank for writing that Mexican and other Latino immigrants have lower IQs than white people — to a senior position at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
  • Corey Stewart, who moved to Virginia from Minnesota to run a series of losing political campaigns premised around his fetish for Confederate history, has also been hired by the Department of Commerce as the “principal deputy assistant secretary for export administration.”

Trump’s nominee to become the next assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Capt. Scott O’Grady, killed two elephants during a 2014 hunting trip in Zimbabwe. He paid $75,000 to hunt the animals, which he said was the “fulfillment of a life-long dream.”
Trey Trainor, head of the Federal Election Commission, has been spreading the same election conspiracy theories as Trump and his legal team. “I do believe that there is voter fraud taking place” in key states in the 2020 presidential election, Trainor told Newsmax last week. “If she says there is rampant voter fraud… I believe her,” Trainor wrote of Trump-associated lawyer Sidney Powell.


Congress

Last week, the Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing focusing on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) invited three doctors who have pushed hydroxychloroquine to testify about the (unproven) benefits of the drug and attack the integrity of the medical community, suggesting scientists were part of some “deep state” conspiracy (clip). Over the summer, the FDA determined hydroxychloroquine was not effective and could cause serious side effects.

Jerry Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said hydroxychloroquine isn’t being recommended for good reason; it is ineffective and potentially dangerous. “The idea that scientists are discouraging the use of (hydroxychloroquine) because it’s cheap is about as crazy as the President’s contention that the number of COVID-19 cases is being inflated because doctors make more money by doing so,” Avorn said.
“We need to base policy on reality rather than on crazy conspiracy theories, whether it’s about the pandemic or elections…What [Sen. Johnson] is doing is outrageous,” Carome said.

A watchdog group has filed an SEC complaint against Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) for alleged insider trading. Shortly before Senator Perdue was appointed as chair of a powerful Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the U.S. Navy, he began buying up stock in a company that made submarine parts. And once he began work on a bill that ultimately directed additional Navy funding for one of the firm’s specialized products, Perdue sold off the stock, earning him tens of thousands of dollars in profits.
Last year, Sen. Perdue privately pushed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to give wealthy sports owners a lucrative tax break last year. Why Perdue got interested in an obscure tax regulation, which would impact at most only a small set of the richest Americans, is unclear.
The Georgia Democratic Party and a watchdog group filed ethics complaints against Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) “for blatantly violating Senate Ethics rules to support her campaign.” While on federal property, inside the United States Capitol building, Loeffler solicited campaign donations live on Fox News. It is against the law to campaign in federal buildings.
Sen. Loeffler appears to have omitted a holding company from her federally mandated financial disclosures, which would violate Senate ethics rules and federal law. Furthermore, Loeffler and her husband may also have used a Trump tax-law loophole to write off the $10 million jet purchase entirely. Individuals are not permitted to write off the purchase of a jet; only businesses can do that.


Court cases

D.C. Chief District Judge Beryl Howell ruled against Michael Pack, the head of the agency that runs the Voice of America, preventing him from making personnel decisions and interfering in editorial operations. Since his confirmation in June, Pack fired and suspended top executives, initiated investigations into journalists, and scrapped protections for the newsroom from political interference.
The Federal Trade Commission has asked a federal court to force former Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon to testify under oath as part of the agency’s investigation into Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data breach. Before joining Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team, Bannon served as vice president and a board member of Cambridge Analytica, which also did work for the president’s campaign.
The Supreme Court agreed to postpone oral arguments in a case concerning grand jury material redacted from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia. The House Judiciary Committee asked for the delay because of Biden’s election and the start of a new Congress
Two Trump judges on the 11th Circuit struck down bans on juvenile gay conversion therapy in South Florida. Britt Grant and Barbara Lagoa ruled that therapists’ free speech rights trump medical consensus about the harms associated with trying to change teenagers’ sexual orientation. Judge Beverly Martin, a Barack Obama appointee, dissented.


DOJ and investigations

FBI agents in New York are reportedly investigating Rudy Giuliani. According to CNN, agents have recently contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence. Some questions focused on the possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden.
The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into claims that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton abused his office to benefit a wealthy donor. The probe comes after Paxton’s top deputies reported him to the FBI. All eight have since resigned, been put on leave, or been fired, prompting a whistleblower lawsuit.
One week after Barr was nominated to lead the DOJ, a federal criminal probe into one of his former corporate clients was essentially dropped. Barr previously represented Caterpillar Inc, a Fortune 100 company, in a federal criminal investigation for trying to dodge paying taxes. However, after Barr’s nomination, DOJ officials in Washington told the investigative team to take “no further action” in the case.
The White House directed the Justice Department to open an investigation into former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman in apparent retaliation for publishing an unflattering book about the president. The investigation into a seemingly unrelated paperwork dispute led to a lawsuit against Newman.

“This was weaponization of a lawsuit by the White House for retaliation for writing a book — for saying offensive words about Mr. Trump,” said John Phillips, a lawyer for Ms. Manigault Newman.

The Justice Department has scheduled executions for three inmates on federal death row, rushing to carry out the death penalty before Biden takes office. Since July, when it resumed carrying out the death penalty after a 17-year hiatus, the Trump administration has executed seven federal inmates.


The Trumps

Two separate New York State fraud investigations into Trump and his businesses have expanded to include tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees, some of which appear to have gone to Ivanka Trump. Investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is conducting a broad criminal investigation, and the New York attorney general’s office, which has a civil inquiry under way, have subpoenaed the Trump Organization seeking records relating to the consulting fees.

The subpoenas were in response to a New York Times investigation into President Donald Trump’s tax returns that first disclosed that he took $26 million in write-offs that came from fees he paid to consultants, including an apparent $747,000 fee that the Times said matched a payment disclosed by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.

  • Following the report, Ivanka Trump took to Twitter to complain about unfair harassment and politically-motivated investigations.

Despite admitting that the transition to Biden’s administration has begun, Trump has continued to send fundraising emails at a blistering pace. In an email sent Monday, Trump’s team solicited contributions to his “Election Defense Fund” – money that will ultimately be used to pay off campaign debts and fund his future activities. A large portion of this money may go towards his own legal defense in the many lawsuits and investigations that await him as a citizen.

Trump is only too aware that he can no longer use the Justice Department as his personal attorneys. He is also likely aware that he can use his campaign money to hire a very expensive legal team…According the Federal Election Commission, “In several advisory opinions the Commission has said that campaign funds may be used to pay for up to 100 percent of legal expenses related to campaign or officeholder activity, where such expenses would not have occurred had the individual not been a candidate or officeholder.”

Trump, with top aides and allies, has discussed ways he could cash-in on his role as former president when he leaves the White House. The options he is reportedly considering include a book deal, media appearances, paid corporate speeches, and selling tickets to rallies. Sources told the Washington Post that after leaving office, Trump “wants to remain an omnipresent force in politics and the media,” and cement his role as a GOP power broker.
An apartment management company co-owned by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has taken action in court to evict hundreds of tenants. Westminster Management has moved against largely low- and middle-income tenants in the Baltimore area, many of them Black, whose apartments are managed by the company.


Immigration

District Judge Emmet Sullivan (an Obama-appointee) ordered the Trump administration to halt its practice of “expelling” underage migrants who enter the United States without a parent. The order requires the administration to once more process the humanitarian claims of minors who cross the border alone, rather than returning them to Mexico or flying them back to their home countries without due process.
28 children who have been detained in an ICE facility for more than a year could be deported after being denied the opportunity to seek asylum by Trump administration policies. Though federal courts have since struck down the policy, the judges could not intervene in the deportations of thousands of asylum-seekers that had already been scheduled.
New reporting revealed that the White House blocked the Justice Department from making a deal in October 2019 to pay for mental health services for migrant families who had been separated by the Trump administration. The decision was made after consulting with senior adviser Stephen Miller.



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