[Lost in the Sauce] NY AG investigating Eric Trump & Trump Org for fraud

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.


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New York AG

Yesterday, New York Attorney General Letitia James asked a State Supreme Court judge to compel the Trump Organization and Eric Trump to comply with subpoenas for testimony and documents. The AG’s office is investigating whether President Trump and his company committed fraud by overstating assets to get loans and tax benefits.

Eric Trump initially agreed to sit for a deposition on July 22, only to refuse, “balking less than two days before he was scheduled by agreement to give testimony.”

Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer and a longtime confidant of Trump, gave sworn testimony to the state investigators over two days last month. He is expected to meet again with the office.

AG James: Our investigation began after Michael Cohen testified before Congress that Trump’s annual financial statements inflated the values of his assets to obtain favorable terms for loans & insurance coverage, while also deflating the value of other assets to reduce real estate taxes… The Trump Organization has stalled, withheld documents, and instructed witnesses, including Eric Trump, to refuse to answer questions under oath.

The investigators are trying to determine whether the Trump Organization reported the forgiveness of more than $100 million in loans in connection with the Chicago office tower as income, what tax benefits Trump claimed for multimillion-dollar conservation easements granted at Seven Springs and the L.A. golf club, and the details of a 2015 refinancing of the office building on Wall Street.

Postal Service Hearing

Postmaster Louis DeJoy testified before the House Oversight Committee yesterday, coming off as defiant amidst criticism for service delays under his watch. There were a number of highlights from the hearing, but the questioning by Rep. Katie Porter was perhaps the most effective (video).

Porter exposed the many contradictions in DeJoy’s testimony: He’s not responsible for many of the cost-cutting measures, but he was able to suspend them. He didn’t analyze the potential fallout from those changes because they went into effect before his tenure started, but he isn’t going to reverse them.

Porter: Mr. DeJoy, thank you for being with us today. What is the cost of a first class postage stamp?

DeJoy: 55 cents.

Porter: What about to mail a postcard

DeJoy: I don’t, I don’t know.

Porter: You don’t know the cost to mail a postcard?

DeJoy: I don’t.

Porter: What if i want to mail a – you said 55 cents for a first-class stamp – but what if it’s like one of those greeting cards, it’s a square envelope, then what is the postage?

DeJoy: I’ll submit that I know very little about postage stamps.

Porter asked about packages (DeJoy went 1 for 2) and then got to voting: “Within a million or so, can you tell me how many people voted by mail in the last presidential election?” Porter asked.

DeJoy: No, I cannot.

Porter: To the nearest 10 million?

DeJoy: I would be guessing and I don’t want to guess.

So, Mr. DeJoy, I’m concerned. I’m glad you know the price of a stamp, but I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency. And I’m particularly concerned about it because you started taking very decisive action when you became postmaster general.

Porter then asked DeJoy if he had analyzed the major overhaul plans before they took effect. DeJoy responded that he “did not order major overhaul plans” and that they were in effect before he arrived.

So Porter asked if DeJoy could say who did put those plans in place. “If you did not order these actions to be taken, please tell the committee the name of who did.”

“I do not know,” DeJoy responded. When Porter asked if he would commit to reversing the changes, DeJoy replied that he would not.

  • If you want to watch other highlights, check out Rep. Raskin who made DeJoy very uncomfortable asking about his conflicts of interest (video). And if you want to see one of the most contentious moments, see Rep. Stephen Lynch grill and, ultimately, yell at DeJoy (clip). Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez focused on DeJoy’s calendar and suggested the committee issue a subpoena for it if he does not turn it over (clip).

Senate Intel Report

Last week, the final volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference was released.

The following are some of the main takeaways:

  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman for much of 2016, had repeated secret contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, described in the report as a “Russian intelligence officer.” Manafort had worked with Kilimnik since 2004, and shared detailed, sensitive information with him before, during, and after the campaign.
  • Roger Stone was tasked by the campaign with finding all he could about what information WikiLeaks had about Clinton and Democrats more broadly, and “Trump and the Campaign believed that Stone had inside information and expressed satisfaction that Stone’s information suggested more releases would be forthcoming.”
  • Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller he did not recall talking about it with Stone or anyone in the campaign. The Senate report said, “Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone and Wikileaks and with members of his campaign” about it on “multiple occasions.”
  • A Russian lawyer who met with Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower before the 2016 election also had more “significant connections” to the Kremlin than has been previously reported, the Senate probe concludes. The “dirt” that Natalia Veselnitskaya offered on Clinton was “part of a broader influence operation targeting the United States that was coordinated, at least in part, with elements of the Russian government,” the report states.
  • “The Committee observed numerous Russian-government actors from late 2016 until at least January 2020 consistently spreading overlapping false narratives which sought to discredit investigations into Russian interference.” One goal of this coverup was to “promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election,” the Senate report says. This lie has been repeated by not just Trump, but also prominent Republicans and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson.

Some tidbits that may have been overlooked:

  • Roger Stone drafted pro-Russia tweets for Trump at Trump’s request during the campaign. Many “attacked Clinton for her adversarial posture toward Russia and mentioned a new peace deal with Putin.” (237)
  • The Trump Organization used “positive public comments” Trump made about Putin to advance Trump’s secret effort to score a big tower deal in Moscow (ix)
  • The report contains several letters from Trump to Putin, including one from 2007 in which Trump says, “As you probably have heard, I am a big fan of yours!” He underlined the last phrase with a sharpie marker (418).
  • A Russian company that has invested in Braidy Industries’ planned aluminum rolling mill in Eastern Kentucky was identified as a proxy of the Kremlin. The Russian firm, United Co. Rusal, is partly owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The report states: “Deripaska’s companies, including Rusal, are proxies for the Kremlin, including for Russian government influence efforts, economic measures, and diplomatic relations” (153). Mitch McConnell supported lifting the sanctions on Rusal and two of his former staff lobbied the federal government on Braidy’s behalf.
  • Former GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher had more extensive contacts with Russian officials attempting to influence US politics than previously known. Rohrabacher met with Russian involved in “targeting elections” and received “sensitive documents” from Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Council of the Federation Committee on Foreign Affairs (328). Kosachev was later sanctioned by the United States, and the committee says that he is “significantly involved in Russian influence activities, including those targeting the United States.”

Miles Taylor

Miles Taylor, who worked at the Department of Homeland Security during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, is speaking out about his time in the administration.

  • Taylor says that it often felt like his office had to fight against the president to secure U.S. elections from foreign meddling. “He was playing for the other team, it felt like, a lot of the time…That’s what it felt like. Sometimes it felt like the president was on the Russian team and not the American team, and we were having to run the football into the end zone against the president to secure our own country.”
  • “He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,” Taylor claims in a political ad.
  • “The president repeatedly exhorted DHS officials to restart [the family separation policy] and to implement a more deliberate policy of pulling migrant families apart en masse, so that adults would be deterred from coming to the border for fear of losing their children. The president was visibly furious on multiple occasions when my boss, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, refused,” Taylor wrote in an op-ed.

Court cases

Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump’s effort to block Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance from subpoenaing his financial records. However, Vance agreed not to enforce the subpoena until after an appeals court has ruled on Trump’s request for a stay pending appeal of his lawsuit – oral arguments are set for Sept. 1.

  • Reminder: The Supreme Court ruled that Trump was not immune from investigation at the local level but noted that he is permitted to challenge subpoenas for being issued in bad faith or seeking too broad a range of materials. The current legal challenges relate to the latter issues.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals voted to allow an Emoluments Clause lawsuit against Trump to continue in a lower court. The lawsuit is brought by a hotel operator and a group of restaurants, who argue that Trump’s “vast, complicated and secret” business arrangements violate the Clause. Two Trump appointees and a George W. Bush appointee dissented from the ruling.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that political nonprofits must disclose the names of donors, erasing a major source of dark money contributions. The case arose from donations to the Karl Rove-founded, pro-GOP group Crossroads GPS during the 2012 campaign cycle.

CREW: “This is yet another major win in the fight against dark money in politics. Now groups that make a key type of political ad known as independent expenditures must report every contributor who gave at least $200 in the past year, as well as those who give to finance independent expenditures generally. It will be much harder for donors to anonymously contribute to groups that advertise in elections. This is a great day for transparency and democracy.”

The Manhattan DA’s office argued in court filings last week that fraud charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort should be reinstated. The charges – for falsifying business records to obtain millions of dollars in residential mortgage loans – were tossed out last year due to New York’s double jeopardy law.

Further reading:

  • A California Superior Court judge has ordered Trump to pay $44,100 to Stormy Daniels to reimburse her attorneys’ fees
  • The White House asked the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that said Trump could not block critics on Twitter.
  • More than a half-dozen cities, counties, and civil right groups sued the Trump administration over its decision to cut the 2020 census short by a month
  • A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a new regulation that would roll back health care protections for transgender people.

Immigration news

Trump Cabinet officials voted in a 2018 White House meeting to separate migrant children. Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller led the meeting. Those invited included AG Jeff Sessions, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and newly installed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

As Nielsen had said repeatedly to other officials in the weeks leading up to the meeting, according to two former officials, the process could get messy and children could get lost in an already clogged system.

Miller saw the separation of families not as an unfortunate byproduct but as a tool to deter more immigration. According to three former officials, he had devised plans that would have separated even more children. Miller, with the support of Sessions, advocated for separating all immigrant families, even those going through civil court proceedings, the former officials said.

“If we don’t enforce this, it is the end of our country as we know it,” Miller said, according to the two officials.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Trump administration has set up a shadow immigration system on the U.S.-Mexico border using private contractors to detain migrant children in hotels before they are quickly sent home. This allows immigration officials to bypass the normal process that would give the children a chance to ask for asylum here.

Up and down the border, court documents show, many unaccompanied children have been held secretly in hotels for days, sometimes weeks, until they can be put on planes back to the countries they came from… [since March] the U.S. has carried out 100,000 expulsions, removing more than 2,000 unaccompanied children.

  • The ACLU filed a class-action court challenge against this policy of expelling migrant children without giving them an opportunity to seek humanitarian refuge.

Immigrant rights advocates say that Muslim detainees at a Florida facility are being served meals that include pork in violation of their religious beliefs. Since the pandemic began, the facility switched from cafeteria dining to sending plates directly to the detainees’ units. The letter says the meals regularly include pork sausage and pork ribs and other pork-based ingredients.

A judge in California ordered immediate coronavirus testing of all detainees and staff at an immigration detention center where COVID-19 was spreading for weeks while officials refused to test for the virus.

Trump proposals threaten LGBTQ asylum-seekers’ hopes of refuge in U.S. Human Rights Watch wrote that the regulations “appear designed” to target three groups in particular: “Central Americans fleeing gang violence; women fleeing domestic abuse; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.”

And there’s more…

Stories that didn’t fit in the above categories.

The White House budget office has upended a decades-old practice on how federal agencies spend money, giving more power to political appointees to move money around. Career OMB staffers have privately expressed concern that the shift will dramatically slow down the disbursement of federal funding approved by Congress. Some career staffers have also expressed “deep suspicion” about the administration’s motives for the change.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to comply with congressional subpoenas issued for him and for the State Department to provide information and testimony to lawmakers. Pompeo then cancelled unrelated staff-level briefings in what House Foreign Affairs Cmte. Chairman Engel called a “temper tantrum.”

“By producing State Department records only to the Senate as part of this investigation, which may already be soiled by Russian interference, but refusing to honor a lawful subpoena to produce them to the State Department’s committee of jurisdiction, you may intentionally or unintentionally be enabling these Russian efforts to interfere in the upcoming election. If the Department’s efforts here were truly above-board and in the national interest, you would not hesitate to provide the House Foreign Affairs Committee with the full collection of records you have produced to the Senate,” wrote Chairman Engel.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a controversial bill that enhances penalties for certain crimes related to political protests and makes it a felony to illegally camp on state property. In Tennessee, a felony conviction automatically revokes an individual’s right to vote.

Forget the Trump tweets. This is the Trump action that might actually kill us: The Trump administration is scrapping limits on methane leaks, allowing oil and gas companies to decide how much of the potent greenhouse gas can escape into the atmosphere from wells, pipelines and storage tanks.

The Trump administration opened up or expanded hunting and fishing at nearly 150 national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, expanding hunters’ ability to kill big game, migratory birds, and other animals.

Trump has personally pushed the head of the Federal Trade Commission to aid his crusade against alleged political bias in social media.

A Trump administration fetal tissue ethics panel voted to scrap 13 of 14 National Institutes of Health medical research proposals already approved for federal funding by scientists.

The DOJ charged a former Army Green Beret with providing information about US national defenses to Russian agents.