Lost in the Sauce: Last-minute loyalists and rushed executions
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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Legal dangers ahead
The Manhattan district attorney’s office interviewed Michael Cohen for numerous hours on Thursday, focusing on Trump’s business dealings and relationship with Deutsche Bank. This is the second time that Cohen met with DA Vance’s prosecutors, who are looking to the Trump Organization for possible tax, bank, and insurance fraud, though the probe is largely stalled until the Supreme Court rules on subpoenas issued to Trump’s lenders. Cohen is also cooperating with a civil investigation led by New York AG Letitia James.
Meanwhile, Vance’s office has reportedly increased the scope of its investigation to include Trump’s Westchester County property called Seven Springs. Last month, Manhattan prosecutors served the town of Bedford with a grand jury subpoena seeking a broad range of documents related to Seven Springs. Trump bought the property for $7.5 million and later reported its value at almost $300 million.
“Valuations of Seven Springs were used to claim an apparent $21.1 million tax deduction for donating a conservation easement on the property in tax year 2015, and in submissions to financial institutions as a component of Mr. Trump’s net worth,” according to court filings in the New York attorney general’s investigation.
- NY AG James is also looking into the Seven Springs property. Background info.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine formally notified Don Jr. that his office wants to interview him about the Trump inaugural committee’s alleged misuse of donor funds. Racine revealed in court filings last week that Don Jr.’s assistant made a hotel reservation that resulted in the improper payment of nearly $50,000 to Trump’s D.C. hotel.
According to the New York Times, Georgia prosecutors “appear increasingly likely” to investigate Trump for attempting to overturn the results of the presidential election. Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis is reportedly considering hiring a special counsel to lead the probe into Trump’s interference, which included calls to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and a Georgia elections investigator.
“If you took the fact out that he is the president of the United States and look at the conduct of the call, it tracks the communication you might see in any drug case or organized crime case,” said Michael J. Moore, the former United States attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “It’s full of threatening undertone and strong-arm tactics.”
Trump money woes
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that the city is terminating its contracts with Trump’s company to run a carousel, two ice rinks, and a golf course in city parks. The Trump Organization has pocketed about $17 million a year in profits from these deals. Somewhat lessening the impact, however, was the later revelation that three of the four contracts were already set to expire in April. NYC will likely face a legal fight over the fourth contract – for Trump’s company to manage an 18-hole golf course in the Bronx – since it is not set to expire until 2032.
“The City of New York has no legal right to end our contracts and if they elect to proceed, they will owe The Trump Organization over $30 million dollars,” Eric Trump, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said in a statement.
- More: Video of de Blasio discussing the move on MSNBC.
Numerous companies and banks have committed to cutting ties with Trump following his role inciting the Capitol insurrection:
Florida-based Professional Bank announced it won’t conduct future business with Trump or his company. The bank provided Trump with an $11 million mortgage for his sister’s Palm Beach home and held as much as $25 million in a money market account for the president’s revocable trust.
New York-based Signature Bank “began the process to close President Trump’s personal accounts” last week and pledged not to do business with any lawmakers who voted to overturn the election. Deutsche Bank also cut off any further business with Trump, other than monitoring the repayment of $300 million in existing loans.
Palm Beach County is looking into possibly canceling its lease with one of Trump’s golf courses, but the chief assistant county attorney calls it “a stretch.” The Trump Organization pays $88,338 a month to rent the property in Florida.
Law firm Seyfarth Shaw dropped the Trump Organization as a client and property services giant Cushman & Wakefield ceased doing business with Trump.
Insurance brokerage Aon Plc also said it cut ties with the Trump Organization. In 2019, the broker was subpoenaed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in his criminal investigation of Trump’s business dealings.
Even the Girl Scouts are seeking to separate from Trump. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York is reviewing options to exit a long-term lease at the Trump Building in Manhattan’s Financial District.
According to Bloomberg, Trump is leaving office about $500 million poorer than when he entered office. “His buildings are saddled with more than $1 billion in debt, most of it coming due in the next three years and more than a third of it personally guaranteed.” Analyses by the government watchdog CREW determined that money coming into the Trump Organization has “likely flatlined” after falling every year he was in office.
Taxpayers have been paying $3,000 a month since September 2017 because Ivanka and Jared Kushner will not allow Secret Service to use the bathroom in Ivanka and Jared Kushner’s home. For the first six months of the administration, the agents used a porta-potty, a toilet at the nearby Obama’s house, and the restroom at the slightly-farther away Pence residence. To date, taxpayers have spent over $100,000 to rent a basement studio, with a bathroom, from a Kushner neighbor.
“It’s the first time I ever heard of a Secret Service detail having to go to these extremes to find a bathroom,” said one law enforcement official familiar with the situation.
Last minute regulations
The Department of Homeland Security signed agreements with multiple jurisdictions intended to slow down Biden’s rollback of Trump era restrictive immigration policies. The agreements – signed with Arizona, Louisiana, Indiana, and the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina – require DHS to provide the jurisdictions with six months to review any immigration policy changes.
Just how the agreements will actually play out after Joe Biden takes office remains to be seen. Still, Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told BuzzFeed News it’s clear that the Trump administration is “willing to do anything they possibly can to give their restrictive immigration policies staying power.”
The Health and Human Services Department is trying to impose a last-minute rule enacting term limits for top federal health scientists, reducing the independence of career employees. Every five years, center directors at agencies like the FDA and CDC would be subject to mandatory reviews, after which they could be reassigned. “It’s been a step-by-step escalation in retaliation by HHS against career scientists throughout the pandemic,” said a current senior administration official.
The acting Comptroller of the Currency, a bureau within the Treasury, enacted an 11th-hour rule prohibiting large banks from denying loans to entire industries. The move benefits the fossil fuel industry, in particular, as financial institutions begin to distance themselves from companies that harm the environment.
Some of the country’s largest banks, including Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, have said they will end funding for new drilling and oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. The shift by banks is one reason the Trump administration’s auction of oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge failed to draw interest earlier this month.
Last week, the Interior Department cut more than one-third of the endangered northern spotted owl’s designated habitat, opening it up to logging. The dramatic slashing of protected land, led by Secretary David Bernhardt, removes nearly 3.5 million acres from the owl’s habitat. According to the Audubon Society, the species has “lost more than 70 percent of its population since the FWS listed it as threatened in 1990” and now “faces a real threat of extinction.”
Other last-minute environmental rollbacks include:
In the past week, for example, the Interior Department overturned an Obama-era measure that increased royalties that oil, gas and coal companies pay the federal government; …expedited approvals to lease more than 550,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy development; and approved a four-lane highway through Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which had been permanently protected as a wildlife reserve 25 years ago.
Interior also adopted language in its instructional manual on Monday requiring employees to use climate models that predict less-severe impacts from global warming, emphasizing “uncertainty” in the science.
Biden’s transition team said, after reviewing the details of the policies of the past four years, “the Trump administration has done more damage than anticipated to the government’s ability to address climate change.” The EPA has suffered “carefully directed budget cuts,” massive staff losses, and “more systematic elimination of climate programs and research than they realized.”
Elsewhere in government, the official said, the Trump administration has curtailed the Energy Department’s Quadrennial Energy Review and other research; moved to cut the Treasury Department’s office of energy and environment; and disengaged from the international Arctic Council while blocking climate work at the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.
Trump’s attempt to reclassify career federal employees with fewer protections has failed, as time runs out on the administration’s clock. The Office of Management and Budget tried to create a new job classification that would have made it easier for political appointees to fire or reassign nonpartisan staffers.
The National Rifle Association of America filed for bankruptcy last week, adding that it intends to move from New York to Texas. New York Attorney General Letitia James said the group’s relocation will not affect her office’s lawsuit: “The NRA’s claimed financial status has finally met its moral status: bankrupt… we will not allow the NRA to use this or any other tactic to evade accountability and my office’s oversight.”
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre, named in the attorney general’s lawsuit, blamed the state of New York for the organization’s woes. “Obviously, an important part of this plan is ‘dumping New York,'” LaPierre said in a statement. “The NRA is pursuing reincorporating in a state that values the contributions of the NRA, celebrates our law-abiding members, and will join us as a partner in upholding constitutional freedom.”
- A major NRA donor is set to challenge the group’s bankruptcy filing in an effort to hold executives like Wayne LePierre accountable for defrauding members. Dave Dell’Aquila, who has donated more than $100,000, could prevent the NRA from discharging a large portion of its $60 million of debt.
A White House liaison to the DOJ solicited derogatory information last year regarding E Jean Carroll, who is suing Trump for defamation. Carroll alleges that Trump sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s; by denying her account and calling her a liar, he may have committed defamation. A senior DOJ attorney told The Guardian that liaison Heidi Stirrup approached them not long after a federal court ruled that the department cannot intercede on Trump’s behalf.
Stirrup asked if the department had uncovered any derogatory information about Carroll that they might share with her or the president’s private counsel. Stirrup also suggested that she could serve as a conduit between the department and individuals close to the president or his private legal team.
Stirrup also asked the official whether the justice department had any information that Carroll or anyone on her legal team had links with the Democratic party or partisan activists, who might have put her up to falsely accusing the president… The official from whom Stirrup sought information admonished Stirrup, telling her that her request was inappropriate.
- You may recall that Stirrup was in the news for a different reason last year: She tried to pressure DOJ staff to give her information about election fraud that she could pass on to the president. Top Justice officials banned her from the building around the end of November.
- Related: “Donald Trump appeal says government should defend E Jean Carroll lawsuit”
Last week, the Supreme Court allowed the federal government to put its final three people to death – including a woman with a history of severe abuse and mental illness, a man with intellectual disabilities, and a man who did not personally kill anyone. In each case, The conservatives on the Supreme Court overruled lower courts to allow the executions to proceed immediately, bringing Trump’s total executions to 13 in six months – more than in the previous 67 years combined.
What Sotomayor called an “unprecedented rush of federal executions” meant that the federal government “will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.”
Sotomayor was blunt in her assessment of the majority opinion: “This is not justice.”
The Supreme Court blocked mail delivery of abortion pills, reverting to pre-pandemic rules that require patients to pick up the pill in person.
Amy Coney Barrett Set To Hear Case Against Shell, Her Dad’s Employer For 29 Years
Voting tech company Dominion has warned MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell of “imminent” litigation over “false and conspiratorial” claims that the company rigged the 2020 presidential election.
Fox News insisted its multimillion-dollar settlement with Seth Rich’s family, reached in October, stay secret until after the presidential election.
Alabama’s policy requiring a transgender person to undergo full gender reassignment surgery before they can change the sex on their driver’s license is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
Stories that didn’t fit in previous categories…
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller ordered the head of the National Security Agency to install Trump loyalist Michael Ellis as general counsel over the weekend. Ellis officially started his new job yesterday, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempting to intervene.
“The circumstances and timing — immediately after President [Donald] Trump’s defeat in the election — of the selection of Mr. Ellis, and this eleventh-hour effort to push this placement in the last three days of this administration are highly suspect,” Pelosi wrote on Monday.
“Further, the efforts to install him or ‘burrow’ him into a highly sensitive intelligence position 72 hours prior to the beginning of a new administration manifest a disturbing disregard for our national security,” she added. “Therefore, this placement should not move forward.”
- Ellis previously served as the head counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes and was involved in Trump’s Ukraine scandal that led to his first impeachment.
Trump also hatched a last-minute scheme to install Kash Patel – also a former aide to Rep. Nunes – as CIA Deputy Director. Director Gina Haspel bluntly told White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that she’d resign if they followed through with the plan.
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham resigned on Monday, more than 11 months before his term expires. He will be replaced with a career civil servant. Last week, Census whistleblowers said political appointees were pressuring staff to release a tally of undocumented immigrants in each state, regardless of accuracy.