David Parkins/The Globe and Mail.
David Parkins/The Globe and Mail.
Nothing used to rile devoted Barack Obama critics like the president’s winter Hawaiian vacation. A watchdog group once calculated that the Aloha state trips cost taxpayers $3.5m a pop – in airfare, security arrangements, communications and medical staff.
Among the harshest critics of Obama’s travel was Donald Trump, then a private citizen. “President Obama’s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars—-Unbelievable!” Trump tweeted in 2012. Two years later, Trump tweeted that “Obama’s motto” was: “If I don’t go on taxpayer funded vacations & constantly fundraise then the terrorists win.”
The joke, it turns out, is on Trump. Now he is the president – and it appears that he is on track to spend many more millions of taxpayer dollars on trips that might be construed as vacations for him and his family than Obama ever dreamed of. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward… Mar-a-Lago?
By one sketchy estimate, Trump and his family, in their security and travel demands, have already rung up as much in accounts payable by taxpayers as the Obama and Biden families did in eight years, a figure elsewhere calculated, by the Washington DC-based Judicial Watch, as topping $97m.
How is it possible? The complicated receipt involves weekend trips by Trump to Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Florida; travel by his children and their government security details on Trump family business; and costs associated with protecting Trump’s Manhattan home, the high-rise Trump Tower building, where Trump’s wife and youngest child live but where the real estate mogul himself has not set foot since becoming president.
“When President Bush went to the ranch, it was not surrounded by an enormous city – that didn’t involve the same kind of security challenges,” Pitney said. “When President Obama went to Martha’s Vineyard, again fairly isolated, not the same kind of challenges as a highly visible location in the middle of a very crowded city.”
“This also relates to his failure to disclose his taxes,” Pitney said. “He’s the first president in 40 years who hasn’t publicly disclosed his taxes, and many people suspect that he’s employed various legal maneuvers to avoid paying taxes. If that is true, he’s imposing costs on other taxpayers that he’s not bearing himself.”
According to a $37.4m reimbursement claim filed with Congress at the time of the inauguration, New York City spends $500,000 a day protecting Trump tower, mostly in police overtime costs. A trip by Eric Trump in January to visit a condominium development in Uruguay produced a hotel bill of $97,830 for secret service and staff, the Washington Post revealed. Other expensive overseas trips the scion has taken on family business so far this year include visits to the Dominican Republic (polo grounds, hotel, golf course); Dubai (golf course); and Vancouver (hotel).
Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.
Eritrea and North Korea are the first and second most censored countries worldwide, according to a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted. The list is based on research into the use of tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access.
The tactics used by Eritrea and North Korea are mirrored to varying degrees in other heavily censored countries. To keep their grip on power, repressive regimes use a combination of media monopoly, harassment, spying, threats of journalist imprisonment, and restriction of journalists’ entry into or movements within their countries.
Seven of the 10 most censored countries-Eritrea, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, and Myanmar-are also among the top 10 worst jailers of journalists worldwide, according to CPJ’s annual prison census.
Leadership: President Isaias Afewerki, in power since 1993.
How censorship works: Only state media is allowed to disseminate news; the last accredited international correspondent was expelled in 2007. Even those working for the heavily censored state press live in constant fear of arrest for any report perceived as critical to the ruling party, or on suspicion that they leaked information outside the country.
Leadership: Kim Jong Un, who took over after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011.
How censorship works: Article 53 of the country’s constitution calls for freedom of the press, but even with an Associated Press bureau-staffed by North Koreans and located in the Pyongyang headquarters of the state-run Korean Central News Agency-and a small foreign press corps from politically sympathetic countries, access to independent news sources is extremely limited. Nearly all the content of North Korea’s 12 main newspapers, 20 periodicals, and broadcasters comes from the official Korean Central News Agency, which focuses on the political leadership’s statements and activities.
True freedom of the press does not exist in these 10 countries. One thing they all have in common is government control of information, usually through a single source, something which Trump wants the public to eventually accept.
But the media bashing right now is a bit of a red herring. Trump is up to something. Let’s not forget Trump is a narcissistic sociopath. I did a quick google on ‘Trump sociopath’ and found thousands upon thousands of articles, so I’m not alone in believing Trump is a sociopath. Read for yourself here, and here, and here, and Conservative commentator Glenn Beck during an broadcast interview here for starters.
While it is easy and fun to point out what a doofus Trump is, let us never forget he is a sociopath. While he is entertaining us with his rants about the media, fake news, he is also distracting us from what is likely a more sinister event or events.
It is incumbent upon journalists to keep digging everywhere for truth about Trump, his Trump Organization, his ties to Russia, any threats to White House staff or any government employee, any actions which go against the Constitution or law, and not be distracted by the media antics of a buffoon.
America is a great country. It needs the real truth, and not Trump’s version of truth.
The White House has confirmed that its chief of staff spoke with top FBI officials about the bureau’s inquiry into links between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia – a conversation which appears to violate justice department rules to ensure the integrity of investigations.
The administration had sought to push back against reports from CNN and the Associated Press that the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had asked the FBI’s top two officials to rebut news reports about Trump allies’ ties to Russia.
But in doing so, the White House on Friday acknowledged that Priebus, the FBI director, James Comey, and deputy director, Andrew McCabe, had discussed what the FBI knew about Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign.
“The White House appears to have violated accepted protocols and procedures,” said former FBI special agent Ali Soufan.
“As an FBI agent, we always know there shouldn’t be any appearance of political interference over a pending investigation. Any kind of appearance of political influence will be considered against existing protocols and procedures.”
Another retired FBI special agent, Michael German, said the FBI leadership had potentially jeopardized an investigation.
“It is illegal for an FBI employee to take information from an ongoing criminal investigation and share it with a potential witness or subject of that investigation. Obviously, if the justice department ultimately initiates a prosecution in this matter, this purported conversation would be exculpating evidence. Again, if it is true that high bureau officials believe the current FBI investigation is [bullshit], they should close the investigation and be prepared to justify this decision, not leak their opinion to anyone outside of the investigation”, German said.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee – which is also investigating Trump’s ties to Russia – called on Comey to explain the communications.
“Politicized assertions by White House chief of staff Priebus about what may or may not be the findings of an FBI investigation are exactly the wrong way for the public to hear about an issue that is of grave consequence to our democracy. The American people deserve real transparency, which means Director Comey needs to come forward, in an open hearing, and answer questions,” Wyden told the Guardian.
“If, as Priebus claimed, the FBI not only discussed this issue with the White House but coordinated the White House’s public statements, the American people would also have reason to doubt the impartiality both of the bureau and the Department of Justice to which the FBI is responsible. These claims deserve further investigation.”
In both public and private meetings with Congress, Comey has continued to refuse to address whether the FBI has an active inquiry into Trump associates’ ties to Russia, despite continuing pressure from the press. Both the House and Senate intelligence committees have their own investigations into the matter, and congressional Democrats continue to push for an independent inquiry.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said Priebus “has committed an outrageous breach of the FBI’s independence” and “tainted the integrity of the FBI”.
Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer has ramped up pressure on Donald Trump and the federal government to accept the mounting costs of protecting the president, the first family and their extended entourage.
Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, inserted himself into the debate on Sunday, saying it costs $500,000 per day for nearly 200 police officers to protect Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which houses the Trump family business headquarters and serves as the home of the first lady, Melania Trump, and the couple’s son, Barron. The senator estimated the cost could rise to as much as $183m annually.
At current estimates, even a four-year Trump administration could be heading for a billion dollars in taxpayer-borne costs – an eight-fold increase of the $97m Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, estimates it cost to protect Barack Obama over the two terms of his administration.
The estimated costs of guarding Trump Tower have varied from $1m a day (during daily protests before the inauguration) to around $100,000 for the first lady and Barron, 10, who are staying in New York until at least the end of the school year.
Schumer urged Trump to include the costs in the federal budget, noting that New York City has only been reimbursed $7m of $35m requested for the cost of protecting the tower for the period between election day and the Inauguration.
“It’s simply unfair to have New York City taxpayers alone bear the burden of NYPD protection at Trump Tower. President Trump: this is your protection, so I challenge you to put these costs in your upcoming federal budget and make a commitment to reimburse New York City,” Schumer said during a press briefing at his Manhattan office.
In contrast, the cost of protecting former president Obama during his four trips to the city last year came to just $4.1m. The costs of protecting the Obama family home in Chicago over the same pre-inauguration period in his presidency was estimated at $2.2m.
Senator Schumer’s comments come as the full costs of protecting the first family in the lifestyle that it is accustomed are only just starting to be understood.
Last week, officials in Palm Beach said the cost of hosting the president at his Mar-a-Lago estate amounted to $60,000 a day for police overtime.
Trump stayed at Mar-a-Lago for nearly 16 days, from 16 December to 1 January as president-elect, and has visited his private resort home on three consecutive weekends this month, driving up the costs to an estimated half-million dollars.
Kirk Blouin, the town’s director of public safety, told the Sun-Sentinel that the municipality was “overwhelmed”.
Trump’s frequent trips to his self-styled Winter White House in Florida are burdening local businesses. While Air Force One lands at Palm Beach, Lantana, the small airport near Mar-a-Lago, is closed for business during the president’s trips. A banner-flying company operating from there told the Chicago Tribune it has lost more than $40,000 in contracts.
Schumer said he would cooperate with Palm Peach counties in trying to claw back the costs, adding that the cost of protecting the president in Florida was “an additional and unusual expense”.
“We have not had a president with an auxiliary White House,” he added.
Additional costs are also mounting for protecting the Trump children in their daily lives and on their frequent business trips abroad.
Last week, Eric Trump and his brother, Donald Trump Jr, traveled to Dubai to open a Trump-branded golf course. Estimates compiled by the Washington Post, put the cost of Secret Service hotel bills alone in excess of $16,000. Meanwhile, Eric Trump’s trip to visit a Trump-brand condo tower in Uruguay cost an estimated $100,000 in hotel bills.
Weekend’s at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago, membership formerly $100,000/year but now $200,000 and perhaps $300,000 next year, Trump charging Secret Service millions for rooms in Trump Tower in New York or other Trump owned properties, staff promoting Trump products, Trump tweeting about Nordstrom dropping his daughters line because of poor sales, these are just a few of the examples of Donald Trump using the White House as his personal Shopping Channel.
The blatanly obvious promotions by Trump during his presidency should worry everyone who thought Trump would form an honest and ethical government. But another, more odious connection is between Trump interests and foreign powers.
As long as Trump continues to profit from his business empire — which he does whether or not he is nominally in charge — the possibility that outside actors will attempt to affect his policies by plumping up his pocketbook will remain very much in play.
Take the Mar-A-Lago as an example. Trump doubles membership fees once he is president, then decides he will spend his weekends there. Trump didn’t personally benefit, but his properties did. If you were a foreign power wouldn’t you want to purchase a few memberships for the opportunity to be close to the President and have the opportunity for a ‘chat’.
Let’s face it, after Trumps disastrous TV appearance this week and his equally disastrous Mar-A-Lago national security blunder with diners popping away with cameras everything Trump was reading and signing, you have to admit Trump isn’t the sharpest pencil in the pack.
Notably, the Trump Organization simply cannot turn over to the US treasury all profit from interactions with foreign powers. For example, consider the significant benefit conferred by a foreign state that decides to host a series of widely advertised functions at a local Trump hotel, greatly increasing the property’s cultural cachet and thus markedly boosting its profit margins and those of other properties branded “Trump”.
For these and other reasons, Trump will remain in violation of the emoluments clause even if he adheres to any plan he offers government. While his lawyer denied that the clause applies to “fair value exchanges” – presumably as distinguished from sweetheart deals – that conclusion defies common sense.
Why should an otherwise forbidden foreign payment to the president be allowed, but only if the president gives that foreign government its money’s worth in services, advancing interests that may be contrary to the U.S.’s own?
This week, some of Trump’s critics moved forward with legal action. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump’s business holdings violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which makes it illegal for government officials to “accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” CREW’s bipartisan legal team includes, among others, Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as ethics lawyers under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, respectively; Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University; and Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham University (and former congressional candidate) who is considered an authority on the Emoluments Clause. All have been vocally critical of Trump’s continued refusal to sell off his business, and are now taking their case to court to argue that several of Trump’s businesses present avenues by which foreign governments could seek to influence the president by, for example, booking stays at one of his hotels or renting space at one of his properties. Additionally, the lawsuit seeks to force Trump to reveal his tax returns, something every president has done since Gerald Ford but which Trump has refused to do, significantly limiting the public’s ability to understand the president’s finances. When asked about the lawsuit, Trump described it as “totally without merit.” Eisen was quick to respond on Twitter, offering to “debate Trump (or his chosen champion) on the merits of our case anytime,” making it clear that CREW intends to continue to pursue its case. (CREW has also filed a separate complaint to the General Services Administration arguing that Trump has violated the lease on his Washington, D.C. hotel, which states that “no … elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”)
Trump has appointed officials which may turn a blind eye to such lawsuits merely because the lawsuits are vexing.
President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.
The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump blamed leaks from the intelligence community for the departure of Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, whose resignation he requested.
There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. He is a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.
Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.
On an array of issues — including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy — much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy.
The last time an outsider with no intelligence experience took the job was in the early days of the Reagan administration, when Max Hugel, a businessman who had worked on Mr. Reagan’s campaign, was named to run the spy service. His tenure at the C.I.A. was marked by turmoil and questions about the politicization of the agency. He was forced to resign after six months, amid accusations about his past business dealings. (He later won a libel case against the two brothers who made the accusations.)
Even the prospect that Mr. Feinberg may lead a review for the White House has raised concerns in the intelligence community.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Trump has appointed Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, to run the C.I.A., and former Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, to be the director of national intelligence (he is still awaiting confirmation). Both were the preferred choices of the Republican congressional leadership and Vice President Mike Pence and had no close or longstanding ties to Mr. Trump. In fact, they each endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for president during the 2016 Republican primaries.
Mr. Coats is especially angry at what he sees as a move by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner to sideline him before he is even confirmed, according to current and former officials. He believes the review would impinge on a central part of his role as the director of national intelligence and fears that if Mr. Feinberg were working at the White House, he could quickly become a dominant voice on intelligence matters.