Trump’s golf course employed undocumented workers — and then fired them amid showdown over border wall

They had spent years on the staff of Donald Trump’s golf club, winning employee-of-the-month awards and receiving glowing letters of recommendation.

Some were trusted enough to hold the keys to Eric Trump’s weekend home. They were experienced enough to know that, when Donald Trump ordered chicken wings, they were to serve him two orders on one plate.

But on Jan. 18, about a dozen employees at Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., were summoned, one by one, to talk with a human resources executive from Trump headquarters.

“I started to cry,” said Gabriel Sedano, a former maintenance worker from Mexico who was among those fired. He had worked at the club since 2005. “I told them they needed to consider us. I had worked almost 15 years for them in this club, and I’d given the best of myself to this job.”

“I’d never done anything wrong, only work and work,” he added. “They said they didn’t have any comments to make.”

During the meetings, they were fired because they are undocumented immigrants, according to interviews with the workers and their attorney. The fired workers are from Latin America.

The sudden firings — which were previously unreported — follow last year’s revelations of undocumented labor at a Trump club in New Jersey, where employees were subsequently dismissed. The firings show Trump’s business was relying on undocumented workers even as the president demanded a border wall to keep out such immigrants.

Trump’s demand for border wall funding led to the government shutdown that ended Friday after nearly 35 days.

In Westchester County, workers were told Trump’s company had just audited their immigration documents — the same ones they had submitted years earlier — and found them to be fake.

“Unfortunately, this means the club must end its employment relationship with you today,” the Trump executive said, according to a recording that one worker made of her firing.

Eric Trump did not respond to specific questions about how many undocumented workers had been fired at other Trump properties and whether the company had, in the past, made similar audits of its employees’ immigration paperwork. He also did not answer whether executives had previously been aware that they employed undocumented workers.

The firings highlight a stark tension between Trump’s public stance on immigration and the private conduct of Trump’s business.

In public, Trump has argued that undocumented immigrants have harmed American workers by driving down wages. That was part of why Trump demanded a border wall and contemplated declaring a national emergency to get it.

But, in Westchester County, Trump seems to have benefited from the same dynamic he denounces. His undocumented workers said they provided Trump with cheap labor. In return, they got steady work and few questions.

“They said absolutely nothing. They never said, ‘Your Social Security number is bad’ or ‘Something is wrong,’ ” said Margarita Cruz, a housekeeping employee from Mexico who was fired after eight years at the club. “Nothing. Nothing. Until right now.”

To document the firings at the golf club, The Washington Post spoke with 16 current and former workers at the club — which sits among ritzy homes in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., 27 miles north of Manhattan. Post reporters met with former employees for hours of interviews in a cramped apartment in Ossining, N.Y., a hardscrabble town next door, whose chief landmark is the Sing Sing state prison.

Among those workers, six said they had been fired on Jan. 18. They and their attorney confirmed the other terminations.

Another worker said he was still employed at the club at the time of the purge despite the fact that his papers were fake. His reprieve did not last long, however. His attorney later said he was fired that night.

The workers brought pay stubs and employee awards and uniforms to back up their claims. They said they were going public because they felt discarded: After working so long for Trump’s company, they said they were fired with no warning and no severance.

Read the complete article here.

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What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell

LawFare has a very interesting article on the Russian investigation and Donald Trump. Here is a very brief portion of the article written by Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books. The rest you may read at LawFare’s site here.

Shortly before the holidays, I received a call from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asking me to meet with him about some reporting he had done. Schmidt did not describe the subject until we met up, when he went over with me a portion of the congressional interview of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, who was then my Brookings colleague and remains my Lawfare colleague. When he shared what Baker had said, and when I thought about it over the next few days in conjunction with some other documents and statements, a question gelled in my mind. Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion—or at least a part of it?

Late last year, I wrote a memo for Schmidt outlining how I read all of this material, a memo from which this post is adapted.

Today, the New York Times is reporting that in the days following the firing of James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump. It wasn’t simply the obstruction investigation that many of us have assumed. It was also a counterintelligence investigation predicated on the notion that the president’s own actions might constitute a national security threat:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

The following is an adaption of the memo I sent Schmidt. I have updated it in important respects in light of the reporting in the Times’s actual story. The analysis remains, however, tentative; I want to be careful not to overread the threads of evidence I am pulling together here.

The analysis that follows is lengthy and takes a number of twists and turns before laying out what I think is the significance of the whole thing. Here’s the bottom line: I believe that between today’s New York Times story and some other earlier material I have been sifting through and thinking about, we might be in a position to revisit the relationship between the “collusion” and obstruction components of the Mueller investigation. Specifically, I now believe they are far more integrated with one another than I previously understood.

Read the complete article on LawFare.

The presidential library: 10 books Trump recommended this year

Donald Trump in the Oval Office on 27 August 2018. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The president has endorsed at least a dozen books this year – despite claiming he ‘doesn’t have the time’ to read – and they all have one thing in common.

When it comes to reading books, Donald Trump has protested: “I don’t have the time.”

Nonetheless, the president has made at least a dozen personal recommendations on Twitter this year for a shelf full of books written by his supporters and polemicists of the right and far right that he has found to be “excellent”, “fantastic” or even “great”.

Here are 10 of the president’s picks, and all of them have a common theme.

The Faith of Donald J Trump: A Spiritual Biography by David Brody and Scott Lamb

This examination of the “spiritual journey” of the thrice-married, tax-evading billionaire takes 375 pages to build the hopeful argument that by surrounding himself with people of faith, Trump has become religious. Failing that, the authors write: “Clearly, God is using this man in ways millions of people could never imagine. But God knows and that’s good enough.”

The reviews:

“Holy crap!” Los Angeles Times

“A very interesting read. Enjoy!” Donald J Trump

Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy by Stephen Moore and Arthur B Laffer PhD

Huge tax cuts boost economic growth, claims Arthur Laffer, who memorably scribbled his Laffer curve on a napkin over cocktails with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1974. It didn’t work out well for Kansas when they tried it and some of the optimism for the US economy is looking premature.

The authors, Trump’s economic advisers in 2016 and both still members of his economic advisory council, write: “The NeverTrumpers were fantastically wrong … No, he hasn’t ‘destroyed the world’s economy’. No, the stock market hasn’t crashed. No, there is no recession.”

The reviews:

“Two very talented men have just completed an incredible book on my Economic Policies.” Donald J Trump

The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump by Gregg Jarrett

Fox News legal analyst examines “Hillary Clinton’s deep state collaborators” who, he claims, include sacked FBI chief James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller.

The reviews:

“In defending Trump, Jarrett makes a number of claims that raised our eyebrows.” Politifact

“It is indeed a HOAX and WITCH HUNT, illegally started by people who have already been disgraced. Great book!” Donald J Trump

Liars, Leakers and Liberals by Judge Jeanine Pirro

Another Fox News presenter offers another takedown of “a conspiracy by the powerful and connected to overturn the will of the American people”. Perpetrators, she writes, include but are not limited to the FBI, NSA, Pentagon, Hollywood, “fake news media”, Democratic party, Fisa courts and some Republicans (in name only).

The reviews:

“Our great Judge Jeanine Pirro is out with a new book … which is fantastic. Go get it!” Donald J Trump

Why We Fight by Sebastian Gorka

The far-right former White House adviser and Breitbart writer is not only concerned about people ganging up on Trump but the threats to Judaeo-Christian civilisation posed by jihadists, communists, China or “tomorrow’s unknown threat”.

The reviews:

“A very talented man who I got to know well while he was working at the White House, has just written an excellent book … much will be learned from this very good read!” Donald J Trump

Read the complete list on The Guardian newspaper here. Hint: Most reviews are by Donny himself.

Christmas cheer: Trump tells boy that believing in Santa at seven is ‘marginal’

Donald and Melania Trump participate in Santa Tracker phone calls in the East Room of the White House. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump on Christmas Eve took calls from children anxious to find out where Santa was on his gift-giving journey.

In one conversation, Trump asked a 7-year-old named Coleman: “Are you still a believer in Santa?” He listened for a moment before adding: “Because at 7, it’s marginal, right?”

Trump listened again and chuckled before saying: “Well, you just enjoy yourself.”

Mrs Trump told a caller that Santa was in the Sahara. Several minutes later, she reported that Santa was far away in Morocco but would be at the caller’s home on Christmas morning.

Mrs Trump later tweeted that helping children track Santa “is becoming one of my favorite traditions!”

The NORAD Tracks Santa program became a Christmas Eve tradition after a child mistakenly called the forerunner to the North American Aerospace Defense Command in 1955 and asked to speak to Santa.

The program wasn’t affected by the government shutdown. It’s run by volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado using pre-approved funding.

The Trumps later travelled to Washington National Cathedral to attend the Solemn Holy Eucharist of Christmas Eve. The cathedral’s website said the program included readings from Holy Scripture, favorite congregational hymns and seasonal choral and instrumental music as well as Holy Communion. Passes were required.

Trump most likely would have been attending Christmas services at a church near his estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

But he scrapped plans to head to Florida for the holidays after parts of the government were forced to shut down indefinitely in a budget stalemate with Congress.

Source: The Guardian newspaper article here.

The White House rolls back a rule on polluting wetlands

AFTER WITNESSING near-biblical calamities, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Cuyahoga river in Ohio caught fire in 1969, the same year 26m fish died in Florida’s Lake Thonotosassa, the largest recorded fish kill, because of pollution from food-processing plants. “Dirty Water”, a song from that era about the repellent Charles river, remains an anthem of Boston sports teams to this day. Since the early 1970s the White House has interpreted the statute in different ways. President Donald Trump’s team, who released a draft rule on December 11th, apparently want to take water law back to the 1980s.

Despite the simple intentions of the Clean Water Act, its language was anything but. It sought to eliminate the discharge of toxic pollutants into “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). Without further guidance, that would seem to encompass everything from frog ponds to the Mississippi river. Sorting out exactly which waterways are subject to pollution safeguards has been the subject of endless redefinition and litigation since. The Supreme Court’s justices last considered the question in 2006, and even they failed to muster a majority opinion. Writing for four of the nine, Antonin Scalia argued that federal authority extended only to “relatively permanent” waters. Writing for himself, Anthony Kennedy said that the rule should apply to waters that bear a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. Controlling precedent lies somewhere in the middle of these two nebulisms.

Protecting wetlands has been a relatively bipartisan endeavour, at least at the federal level. Richard Nixon signed the original Clean Water Act. George H.W. Bush’s administration declared a goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. One-third of Americans get some of their drinking water from the streams being deregulated. “This would be the most significant weakening of Clean Water Act protections in its history,” says Jon Devine of the Natural Resources Defence Council, a lobby group.

For Mr Trump, the rollback completes a campaign pledge made to farmers, who objected vociferously to the Obama-era regulation. Organisations like the Farm Bureau, another lobby group, whipped up fears of government asserting authority over ditches and ponds. In truth both the regulation and the original law already contain generous carve-outs for farmers, says Caitlin McCoy, a fellow at Harvard Law School.

The EPA’s professed rationale for the change is to provide regularity clarity and certainty. A look at its other recent actions suggests that the real aim is to please regulated industries. The agency pushed for rules allowing coal-power plants to resume dumping wastewater contaminated with mercury, arsenic and lead into streams and rivers. It has relaxed rules governing the disposal of coal ash—the toxic by-product produced by combustion that can leach into streams. And it is doing all it can to rehabilitate the struggling coal industry, which retains a political heft out of proportion to its economic value.

But other groups also stand to benefit from diminished water protections: mining companies, factories and chemical processors are keen to see the Obama-era rule disappear. Property developers and golf-course owners often have their plans stymied by wetland protections (why Mr Trump might be sensitive to their plight remains a mystery). Fore!

Source: The Economist magazine.

 

 

The godfather of fake news

Christopher Blair takes a sip of his coffee.

Then he carefully focuses on one of the three screens in front of him.

He’s in his home office, 45 minutes outside Portland, Maine, on the US East Coast.

Stroking his thick beard, he looks at his bookmarks bar.

He takes another sip before his coffee goes cold, inhales long and hard, then logs into the back end of one of his many websites.

He begins by choosing a subject. Which “lucky” politician will be on the receiving end of his attention today?

Bill Clinton? Hillary Clinton? One of the Obamas?

Or maybe the subject of his story won’t be a person, but a policy. Gun control? Police brutality? Feminism? Anything that will push buttons.

Perhaps he’ll make up a controversial incident, a crime, a new law or a constitutional amendment.

“Changing” the US constitution is particularly fun – he’s already written more than 30 fake amendments. (There are only 27 genuine ones.)

Blair sits back in his chair and focuses intently on the screen. He leans forward, places his hands on the keyboard and starts the same way he does every time.

Caps lock. BREAKING. Colon…

BREAKING: Clinton Foundation Ship Seized at Port of Baltimore Carrying Drugs, Guns and Sex Slaves

The words flow from the thoughts in his head. Unconnected to reality, he needs no research, and no notes.

His fingers rhythmically tap the keys. Letters form into words, words into sentences and sentences into a blog of about 200 words.

It doesn’t take long to write.

Publish.

Blair sits back in his chair and watches the likes and shares roll in.

The Fact Checker.

More than 3,000 miles (5,000km) away in a small town an hour east of the Belgian capital, Brussels, there’s another office in another family home.

Outside, children play in the garden on a warm summer’s afternoon.

Maarten Schenk navigates the steep set of stairs to his basement office. There’s an L-shaped desk in one corner – in another, a cooler is filled with bottles of peach-flavoured iced tea.

His desk resembles Blair’s. On it, sit three computer monitors, with the machine hard drives tucked away neatly underneath.

On one of the screens, he suddenly notices a lot of activity. The US is waking up, and spiking numbers on one page catch Schenk’s attention.

He watches as one particular story is gathering momentum and is quickly being shared on Facebook and other social networks.

Schenk logs into his own website and starts to type.

His job is to tell the world that what he’s seeing online – the story that’s currently going viral about a Clinton Foundation ship, allegedly carrying drugs, guns and sex slaves – is a complete fabrication.

It’s fake news.

During the 2016 US presidential election, journalists began noticing a rash of viral made-up stories on Facebook.

Bizarrely, many of the pages appeared to be posted by people from the Balkans and, after BuzzFeed reported on an unusual cluster of pages, reporters flocked to a small town called Veles in Macedonia.

“The Americans loved our stories and we make money from them,” one faker told the BBC. “Who cares if they are true or false?”

The stories were, in the main, pitched to Donald Trump supporters. They included rumours about Hillary Clinton’s health problems and illegal dealings, stories about luminaries like Pope Francis lining up behind the Republican candidate, and other false news sure to either please or rile Trump’s supporters.

Satire – not news, not opinion, and not propaganda – is how Blair describes his work.

His aim is to trick conservative Americans into sharing false news, in the hope of showing what he calls their “stupidity”.

“We’ve gone out of our way to market it as satire, to make sure that everybody knows that this isn’t real,” he says, pointing out that some of his pages have more prominent disclaimers than the world-famous satire site The Onion.

Once his stories go viral, the Facebook comments burst forth. And that’s when Christopher Blair the fake news writer becomes Christopher Blair the crusading left-wing troll.

“The mission with the trolling first and foremost is we pull them into the comments [section underneath each fake article],” he says.

It’s then that he starts on the offensive. The faker becomes the exposer, weeding out and reporting the most extreme users among his fans.

“I can show you hundreds of profiles we’ve had taken down,” he says. He claims that he’s exposed Ku Klux Klan members and hardcore racists.

“We’ve had people fired from their jobs,” he says.

“We’ve exposed them to their families. Say what you want about me being a monster. I’m pretty proud.”

Read the complete article on the BBC web site here.

Feel the love, feel the hate in the cauldron of Trump’s wild rallies: Ed Pilkington

There is no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his rallies.

They are the crucible of the Trump revolution, the laboratory where he turns his alternative reality into a potion to be sold to his followers. It is at his rallies that his radical reimagining of the US constitution takes shape: not “We the people”, but “We my people”.

As America reels from a gunman killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue; pipe bombs being sent to 14 of the US presidents’ leading opponents, and Trump declaring himself a nationalist and sending thousands of troops to the US border to assail unarmed asylum seekers; the most powerful person on earth continues to rely on his rallies as seething cauldrons of passion.

And that’s not all. Trump is using them as a test run for his 2020 bid for re-election.

Which is why I have crisscrossed the country, from Montana and Wisconsin in the north to Texas in the south, Arizona in the west to North Carolina in the east, to observe the president delivering his message to his people.

On the morning of the fourth rally, the outside world blasts its way into Trumpland. Shortly after 10am, as CNN anchors are telling their viewers about a series of pipe bombs mailed to the Clintons, the Obamas and to George Soros, they have to rush off air because the network has received its own explosive device.

At the same time, Jacob Spaeth and three of his buddies are lining up in a field in Mosinee, Wisconsin. They are all wearing the same distinctive red T-shirt. It bears a cartoon sketch of a smiling Trump urinating profusely over the CNN logo.

Spaeth never watches CNN – he occasionally sees clips of it on Facebook. He gets his information from Infowars, the website of Alex Jones. Jones, a conspiracy theorist, is on the record as saying 9/11 was a government set-up and that the 2012 Newtown school shooting in which 20 children were killed was fabricated. Within hours he will be broadcasting that this week’s pipe bombs are also a hoax.

Spaeth embodies one of the most puzzling aspects of my week in Trumpland. Throughout the five rallies, I talk to scores of people, all of whom, without exception, are welcoming and pleasant. Yet hours later, in the pressure-cooker of the rally, they will turn on me and my mainstream media colleagues and hurl insults at us.

Spaeth admits that when he went to a Trump rally in Minnesota last month he took part in the finger-jabbing and the chanting of “CNN sucks”. It made him feel happy to be able to express his feelings so openly among like-minded folk. “I don’t see it as bullying,” he says.

There’s only one explanation for this pattern of behavior: that Trump enables good, civil Americans to metamorphose into media baiters. “Those people, fake news,” the president says sneeringly at almost every rally, pointing to the caged pen where reporters are cooped up during his speeches.

Read the compete article in The Guardian newspaper here.