Lost in the Sauce: Nov. 24 – 30
Welcome to the second part of my weekly summary and analysis of political-legal news: Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on the smaller stories that were overlooked in the landslide of big news like the impeachment inquiry. Starting next week, I’m going back to just doing the recap as a single post.
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Lost in the Sauce: Nov. 24 – 30
Giuliani in deep trouble
The outlook for Rudy Giuliani keeps getting dimmer – and, really, it couldn’t happen to a better person. Giuliani did, after all, help “incite a riot involving thousands of mostly white, mostly drunk police officers” in 1992, the beginning of a long career of racism, authoritarianism, and self-dealing. Last week, multiple outlets reported that SDNY is investigating Giuliani for a long list of potential crimes, including but not limited to, obstruction of justice, money laundering, conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and serving as an unregistered representative of a foreign country (a FARA violation).
Lobbying for Ukraine
The accusations of foreign lobbying grew stronger with a report from The Washington Post that earlier this year Giuliani sought to enrich himself while also pursuing investigations that would politically benefit Trump. During two meetings with former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko to gather information on the Bidens, Burisma, and the 2016 elections, Giuliani negotiated a deal worth at least $200,000 to represent Lutsenko in his fight with the Ukrainian government. The agreement was never executed, but at least two retainer drafts are known. In one draft, Giuliani would represent Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice for $300,000.
- It is a federal crime to try to influence the United States government at the request or direction of a foreign government, politician, or party without registering as a foreign agent – regardless of if the agent is paid or not. According to Giuliani, he did not register as a foreign lobbyist because he was acting on behalf of his client, Trump, not Ukrainians.
Lobbying for Venezuela?
Another blockbuster report from The Post revealed that Giuliani has recently represented wealthy Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López in dealings with the U.S. Justice Department. Betancourt is an uncharged co-conspirator in a $1.2 billion money-laundering case filed in Florida, alleging that top executives of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company stole money and laundered it through investment schemes in Miami. As part of Betancourt’s legal team, Giuliani argued that his client should not face criminal charges in the case.
- Does this count as foreign lobbying? Giuliani says he is strictly providing legal representation to Betancourt; people doing purely legal work do not have to register under FARA. However: “Just because you’re a lawyer doesn’t mean you’re exempt,” noted Craig Engle, who heads Arent Fox’s political law group. If Giuliani merely met with DOJ about Betancourt Lopez’s case, he’s probably not required to register. But if Giuliani took any steps to help Betancourt Lopez win helpful media coverage or tried to influence US policy on Venezuela more broadly, “that is FARA contact,” Engle said.
Trump laughably tries to distance himself
In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump attempted to deny all responsibility for Giuliani’s actions related to Ukraine, including digging up dirt on Trump’s opponents: “No, I didn’t direct him but he’s a warrior, Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went, he possibly saw something. But you have to understand, Rudy (has) other people that he represents,” Trump told O’Reilly.
The evidence turned up by the House’s impeachment inquiry proves that Trump tasked Giuliani with carrying out his Ukraine “policy.” The following is an incomplete list of just some of the evidence:
- Giuliani engineered the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
- Trump directed multiple U.S. diplomats to “talk to Rudy” in order to coordinate a White House meeting for the new Ukrainian president.
- The public announcement Trump demanded of Zelensky – that the country was opening investigations into the Bidens, Burisma, and the 2016 election – was negotiated with Giuliani. In fact, Giuliani did not approve of the first draft of the public statement because it did not specify Burisma and 2016.
- During the infamous July 25 phone call, Trump even told Zelensky himself: “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
- In October, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told the press that Giuliani was involved in U.S.-Ukraine affairs, saying: “You may not like the fact that Giuliani was involved. That’s great. That’s fine. It’s not illegal. It’s not impeachable. The President gets to use who he wants to use.”
During a Fox News interview, Guiliani commented on rumors that Trump may try to make him a scapegoat in the Ukraine investigations: “I mean, I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus…When they say that, I say, ‘He isn’t, but I have insurance,” Giuliani said.
After the interview aired, Giuliani tweeted that the insurance claim was “sarcastic” and “relates to the files in my safe about the Biden Family’s 4 decade monetizing of his office.” However, Giuliani made a similar remark earlier last month in an interview with The Guardian…and also defended himself by playing it off as a joke.
Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, didn’t think it was funny. Costello “insisted” Giuliani call Trump to tell him he was not serious about the insurance policy. “He shouldn’t joke, he is not a funny guy. I told him, ‘Ten thousand comedians are out of work, and you make a joke. It doesn’t work that way,’” Costello told Reuters.
House files census lawsuit
Chairwoman on the House Oversight Committee Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Tuesday for failing to comply with the Committee’s bipartisan subpoenas seeking information on the administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
- Further reading:
- “Probe: Contact between Trump adviser and gerrymandering guru.” The AP. 11/12/19.
- “New Evidence Shows That 2020 Census Citizenship Question Was a Sham All Along.” Mother Jones. 11/14/19.
- “Emails Connect Census Official With GOP Strategist On Citizenship Question.” NPR. 6/15/19.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose revealed that a Russian-owned company launched a cyber attack against the state on Nov. 5, Election day in Ohio. The SQL-injection attack was detected by the state’s internal systems and thwarted. The company behind the attack was not named, but LaRose said the attempted intrusion was traced to Panama.
Apple sides with Russia
Russian Apple Maps users now see Crimea displayed as part of their mother country, with a border separating it from Ukraine. Those who access Apple Maps from the rest of the world see Crimea as undefined, neither Russian nor Ukrainian. Apple made the change in response to pressure from the Russian government, joining Google Maps in bucking the overwhelming international consensus that the annexation of Crimea should not be recognized.
And all the rest…
More documents to be released:
A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to the Trump administration’s freeze on security aid to Ukraine…The judge ordered the release of half of the documents by Dec. 12 and the rest by Dec. 20. (Axios)
Two sets of numbers:
Donald Trump’s business reported conflicting information about a key metric to New York City property tax officials and a lender who arranged financing for his signature building, Trump Tower in Manhattan…The 16 percentage point gap between the loan and tax filings is a “very significant difference,” said Susan Mancuso, an attorney who specializes in New York property tax…[The discrepancies make Trump properties] appear more profitable to the lender and less so to property tax officials. (ProPublica)
- The diverging numbers match a pattern described by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, in congressional testimony this year. Cohen said Trump at times inflated assets’ value in documents submitted to lenders in an effort to secure loans. In reports to tax officials, Cohen testified, Trump would lower the value to reduce what he owed.
Flynn sentencing delayed:
Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, will not be sentenced on December 18 as previously planned, a federal judge said Wednesday, to await the release of an internal Justice Department report on FBI surveillance. (CNN)
Immigration rule blocked:
A federal judge in Oregon blocked President Donald Trump’s bid to deny immigrants visas unless they buy health insurance within 30 days of entering the country or otherwise show they can cover their medical costs… [Judge] Simon noted that the requirement that immigrants buy unsubsidized insurance — meaning they couldn’t get financial assistance through Obamacare — barred poor people from entering the country, which he said clearly infringed on the law. (Politico)
ICE entraps and arrests hundreds:
About 90 additional foreign students of a fake university in metro Detroit created by the Department of Homeland Security have been arrested in recent months. A total of about 250 students have now been arrested since January on immigration violations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of a sting operation by federal agents who enticed foreign-born students, mostly from India, to attend the school that marketed itself as offering graduate programs in technology and computer studies, according to ICE officials. (Detroit Free Press)
Judge allows Michigan Redistricting:
Michigan can proceed with plans to create an independent redistricting commission after a federal judge on Monday rejected Republican attempts to immediately delay implementation of a state constitutional amendment voters approved last fall. The decision by U.S. District Court Janet Neff, appointed by GOP former President George W. Bush, is a blow to Republicans who fought the 2018 ballot initiative and drew the state’s current congressional and legislative districts in 2011. An appeal appears likely. (Bridge)
The real reason China likes Trump:
Chinese officials are betting that Trump’s transactional approach to politics might be preferable to a more principle-driven president, whether Democrat or Republican. “Trump is a businessman. We can just pay him money and the problems will be solved,” said a politically connected person in Beijing, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about sensitive international issues. “As long as we have money, we can buy him. That’s the reason why we prefer him to Democrats.” (The Washington Post)
Inflating Don Jr.’s book sales:
At least nine Republican organizations, G.O.P. candidates or advocacy groups are selling “Triggered” or promoting [Don Jr.’s] book tour…The N.R.C.C. bought $75,000 worth of books in November, a spokesman said, in a promotion that took in almost $200,000 in contributions. The National Republican Senatorial Committee ordered about 2,500 copies, which it said sold almost immediately…The Republican National Committee and Citizens United, a conservative activist group run by a former deputy campaign manager to the president, are also offering the book to donors. (The New York Times)
In case you missed it:
The Trump campaign trolled The Washington Post this week for reporting that a picture President Donald Trump shared of his head pasted onto the body of the fictional boxing champion Rocky Balboa had been doctored. The Trump campaign responded by mocking The Post’s characterization of the image as fabricated, with the campaign’s official Team Trump account replying, “Washington Post claims – without evidence – that @realDonaldTrump shared a “doctored” photo.” Critics of the president were stunned by the campaign’s response, seeing in it a chilling attempt to deny basic facts. (Business Insider)