Lost in the Sauce: Trump’s smear campaign fizzles out

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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Trump’s hit job fizzles

Emails and photos purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden were circulating in Ukraine last year at the same time that Rudy Giuliani was in the country searching for dirt on Joe Biden. Two people said they were approached with Hunter’s alleged emails, first in May 2019 and second in September 2019.

Giuliani’s former business partner, Lev Parnas, separately told Politico that Giuliani was offered the photos and emails in May 2019 by an associate of Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky, who wanted to curry favor with the Trump administration.

Parnas said Giuliani was eager to get the information from Zlochevsky…Ultimately, Giuliani was not satisfied with the answers he got back on July 7, 2019. Asked, for example, whether Joe Biden, while vice president, had ever assisted Zlochevsky or Burisma “in any way with business deals or meetings with world leaders or any other assistance,” Zlochevsky replied curtly: “No.”

Giuliani and Parnas were told former Burisma CFO Alexander Gorbunenko – among numerous others – also had access to the material Giuliani was seeking. However, the day Giuliani was scheduled to meet with Gorbunenko and get “a package of information” from him on Hunter Biden, Parnas was arrested.

  • Reminder: Russian military hackers infiltrated Burisma’s servers in Winter 2019, when talk of Ukraine, the Bidens, and impeachment were making headlines in the U.S.

Trump’s hit job to be published in the Wall Street Journal resulted in the opposite of his desired findings: Joe Biden had “no role” in Hunter Biden’s business dealings. White House lawyer Eric Herschmann and former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino gave WSJ documents from a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s named Tony Bobulinski. Trump even invited Bobulinski to the debate last week, in the hopes of generating buzz.

More on the Biden narratives:

  • John Paul Mac Isaac, a computer repairman from Delaware, actively tried to push the story of the Hunter Biden laptops into the press after contacting the FBI. Eventually, Mac Isaac connected with Ken LaCorte, a former Fox News executive who effectively killed a story about the hush money deal between Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump in 2016.
  • Associates of Steve Bannon are pushing child abuse rumors in their attempt to “Pizzagate” Joe Biden.
  • Intelligence Experts Suspicious of DNI Ratcliffe On Laptop Story. The chief of the U.S. intelligence community appeared to pre-judge the conclusions of an active FBI investigation.

More interference

DNI John Ratcliffe gave a last-minute announcement alongside FBI Director Christopher Wray that both Russia and Iran have tried to interfere in the election. “We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia,” Ratcliffe said. However, Ratcliffe chose to emphasize the role of Iran, accusing the nation of trying to harm President Trump’s chances at re-election with spoofed emails purported to be from the Proud Boys.

  • Russia poses a bigger election threat than Iran, many U.S. officials say.

Ratcliffe was joined by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who did not speak about any specific actions or nations. Instead, Wray sought to reassure the public that the FBI and intelligence communities were working to ensure the legitimacy of the election. Wray’s continued refusal to assist in Trump’s re-election gambits has put him in Trump’s crosshairs – should he win re-election, Trump plans on “immediately” firing Wray. Also on the chopping block are CIA Director Gina Haspel and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who received a classified briefing on Wednesday afternoon on election security, said he disagreed with Ratcliffe that Iran was specifically trying to hurt Trump. “It was clear to me that the intent of Iran in this case and Russia in many more cases is to basically undermine confidence in our elections. This action I do not believe was aimed … at discrediting President Trump,” Schumer said.

The Trump administration has known for weeks that Iran and Russia had hacked local governments and obtained voter registration and other personal data. In a technical alert issued Thursday, the FBI and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said that hackers working for the Russian government had broken into several local government networks and that as of the beginning of October had stolen data from at least two of them.

Courts and DOJ

A three-judge District Court panel in California barred the Census Bureau from giving the White House a count of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants. Trump ordered the bureau in July to give him a state-by-state count of people living in the United States without authorization, saying he planned to subtract them from the 2020 census totals that will be used to divvy up House seats among the states next year.

  • Last month a different three-judge panel in federal district court in Manhattan also unanimously rejected Trump’s plan. The case has already been appealed to the Supreme Court, which will have a 6-3 conservative majority. The Supreme Court also recently ruled in Trump’s favor on a different Census issue, allowing the administration to cut the count short by roughly 15 days.

Ken Kurson, a friend Jared Kushner and an associate of Rudy Giuliani, was arrested Friday by the FBI and charged with a “pattern of stalking and harassment against three victims.” Two years ago, the Trump administration offered Kurson a seat on the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Major Republican Party and Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy pleaded guilty Tuesday to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, admitting to accepting millions of dollars to secretly lobby the Trump administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.

NYC, Seattle, and Portland sued the Trump administration for declaring the cities “anarchist jurisdictions” and pulling federal funds. The “anarchist jurisdiction” designation came after Trump ordered the DOJ to identify cities that, in his view, were not responding aggressively enough to protests and crime.

The Mississippi attorney general petitioned the Supreme Court again on Thursday to review the state’s 15-week abortion ban, a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade. Mississippi’s petition comes as the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is all but guaranteed.

Finding that state officials have acted with “deliberate indifference” to the health of prisoners at San Quentin — where 75% of them have tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 have died — a state appeals court took the unprecedented step Tuesday of ordering at least half of the prison’s 2,900 inmates transferred or released.

Funny business

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s former company landed a $5 million highway-shipping contract last month with the United States Postal Service. The contract was negotiated in August and disclosed in mid-October. Around the time it was disclosed, DeJoy belatedly agreed to divest his interest in the company, XPO Logistics.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reported spending almost $75,000 through his campaign and leadership PAC on what appear to be personal expenses, after announcing he would not run for re-election in his North Carolina congressional seat. The expenses include gourmet cupcakes, a cell phone bill, grocery purchases, lavish meals, thousands of dollars at a Washington jeweler, and lodging at the Trump International Hotel.

Sen. Ron Johnson began the process of selling a company he partly owned in February 2018, just months after he insisted the Trump administration change a portion of the tax law in a way that ultimately benefited the sale. At the end of 2017, Johnson refused to vote for Trump’s tax bill unless it provided better treatment for “pass-through” entities. The bill was changed in such a way that increased the value of pass-through entities in order to gain Johnson’s vote. Four months later, Johnson sold his stock in his own pass-through company, generating profits of as much as $25m on the sale.

Watchdog group CREW is concerned that Mitch McConnell is slow-walking the confirmation of the inspector general in charge of investigating his wife. It’s been more than eight months since the Dept. of Transportation, led by Elaine Chao, has had a permanent IG. A Trump political appointee previously vetted by McConnell is currently leading the office, after Trump removed the previous acting IG Mitch Behm.

  • Chao is accused of favoring McConnell’s home state of Kentucky in awarding lucrative grants and assisting McConnell’s allies in advancing their careers.


Trump: A New York Times report revealed that Trump paid almost $200,000 in taxes to China, where he still maintains a bank account and spent years pursuing business deals – a potentially major conflict of interest for a president who has fought both of his election campaigns on a promise to stand up to Beijing. During that time frame, Trump paid no personal income tax to the IRS.

Trump: The Trump Organization re-registered the domain name TrumpTowerMoscow.com this June, as it has done every year of his presidency, suggesting that the company has not necessarily abandoned its hopes for a real estate deal in Russia.

Immigration: ICE officers allegedly tortured Cameroonian asylum seekers to force them to sign their own deportation orders, in what lawyers and activists describe as a brutal scramble to fly African migrants out of the country in the run-up to the elections. According to multiple accounts, detainees were threatened, choked, beaten, pepper-sprayed and threatened with more violence to make them sign.

Immigration: Since 2017, at least 265 calls made to police through 911 and nonemergency lines have reported violence and abuse inside California’s four privately run federal detention centers overseen by ICE. California law enforcement turned a blind eye: In only three cases in which detainees said they were victimized did records show a suspect was charged; in two of those, the suspects were deported before they could be arrested.

Immigration: In Thursday’s debate, Trump said his administration is “working very hard” to reunite migrant parents and kids they forcibly separated (clip). But pro bono advocacy groups say the Trump administration is only now offering assistance because of the “backlash” over reports about the number of kids still awaiting reunification with their parents.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said Thursday’s offer to help was “a PR move in response to the public’s backlash.” “There have never been serious specific offers to help in concrete ways in the past,” Gelernt told NBC News.

  • Trump also tried to claim at the debate that the separated children are “so well taken care of” in “facilities that were so clean” (clip). However, DHS inspectors that visited border facilities last year found adults and minors with no access to showers; little access to hot showers or hot food for families and children in some facilities; overcrowding; some kids held in closed cells.

Immigration: Newly-obtained documents reveal that after Congress mandated that ICE decrease its detention population in February 2019, the agency spent more than $20 million on new contracts to fund multiple prisons in Louisiana. Much of the money appears to be going to LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company quickly gaining notoriety for horrific human rights abuses.

Environment: The Trump administration has relaunched long-delayed plans to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as a prelude to drilling for oil there. The Bureau of Land Management on Friday released a proposal to begin a seismic survey in December, a move that environmental groups say would permanently harm the delicate Arctic tundra and affect polar bears and other wildlife.