Need to Investigate the Corruption of POTUS 45 (and His Family) and His Administration

Please see:

Heather Digby Parton, “It’s the corruption, stupid,” Hullabaloo, May 21, 2018 [emphasis ADDED]:

[C]ertainly, AT THE CENTER OF ALL THE SCANDALS IS TRUMP AND COMPANY’S MASSIVE, OVERWHELMING CORRUPTION which was obvious from the beginning. We can’t say he didn’t warn us:

Trump had inked a deal with Tony Robbins, the frighteningly upbeat motivational speaker, by which Robbins would pay Trump $1 million to give ten speeches at his seminars around the country. Crucially, Trump had timed his political stops to coincide with Robbins’ seminars, so that he was “making a lot of money” on those campaign stops. “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” Trump said.

Adam Serwer, “POLITICS: There Is Only One Trump Scandal: The myriad Trump scandals can obscure the fact that they’re all elements of one massive tale of corruption,” The Atlantic, May 21, 2018 [emphasis added]:

The sheer volume of Trump scandals can seem difficult to keep track of.

There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.

Take recent developments: There’s the president’s attempt to aid the Chinese telecom company ZTE, mere hours after the Chinese government approved funding for a project in the vicinity of a Trump property in Indonesia. There’s the millions of dollars corporations paid to Cohen after the election in an attempt to influence administration policy in their favor. Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, also the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, urged banks to pay off politicians in an effort to weaken the CFPB’s powers legislatively—since taking the helm of CFPB, Mulvaney has dropped a number of cases against payday lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates, after taking thousands from the industry as a congressman. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s own mini-universe of scandals stems from his improper relationships with industry figures, his misuse of taxpayer funds, and his attempts to obscure the truth about both. Trump attempted to pressure the Postmaster General to increase fees on Amazon in order to punish The Washington Post, which has published many stories detailing wrongdoing and misbehavior on the part of the Trump administration, and the Trump campaign before that. Not long after The New York Times reported that Trump officials may have solicited campaign help not just from Russia, but also from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the president “demanded” that the Justice Department launch an inquiry into whether the FBI improperly investigated a campaign that was eagerly soliciting international aid to swing the election in its favor.

In each of these cases, the president or one of his associates was seeking to profit, personally or financially, from their official duties and powers. When that conduct has potentially run afoul of the law, Trump has sought to bend federal law enforcement to his whim, the better to protect himself and his associates from legal accountability. The president’s ongoing chastising of his own Justice Department, and his war of words with current and former FBI officials, stem less from any coherent ideological principle than from Trump’s desperate need to protect himself. An authoritarian model of law enforcement, where the president personally decides who is prosecuted and who is not based on his own political agenda, is simply the best way for Trump to shield himself and his inner circle from legal consequences.

 

Conor Friedersdorf, “POLITICS: Trump’s Business Schemes Warrant Their Own Investigation: The many signs of flagrant corruption that surround the president and his associates demand a separate probe,” The Atlantic, May 22, 2018 [emphasis added]:

The business dealings of Trump and his associates raise so many red flags that Congress should launch a formal inquiry into them independent of the Russia investigation—and voters should hold members of Congress who oppose such an inquiry accountable. Consider all the facts that only a Congress in dereliction of its duty would fail to probe:

  • Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, set up a limited liability corporation under a pseudonym where he received millions of dollars from foreign and domestic interests with business before the government.
  • Cohen also “helped a major donor to Mr. Trump’s inauguration pitch a nuclear-power investment to the Qatari sovereign-wealth fund at a meeting in April,” TheWall Street Journalreports. According to TheWashington Post, Cohen solicited $1 million from the government of Qatar in exchange for influence and access to the incoming Trump Administration. And Cohen’s financial transactions were generating so many suspicious activity reportsthat a gangster’s lawyer could hardly have raised more concerns.
  • According to the Associated Press, Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, spearheaded “a secret campaign to influence the White House and Congress” with political donations, working on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the UAE—and against Qatar—with the expectation of getting a billion in business. At the same time, according to The Daily Beast, “he was also receiving the biggest payouts in the history of his company from the U.S. government.”
  • The same man was involved in a suspicious $1.6 million hush-money payment to a Playboy model that was facilitated in part by Michael Cohen.
  • According to the South China Morning Post, “A billion-dollar Indonesian property development with ties to US President Donald Trump has become the latest project in China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure project,” and news that the project would benefit from $500 million in government loans from China coincided with Trump intervening on China’s behalf in a dispute with the Commerce Department. The affair seems to be a violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
  • Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., appears to be another violation.
  • In the years before Trump ran for president, his company somehow had hundreds of millions of dollars on hand for cash transactions inconsistent with both industry practices and how it had done business for its prior history. And a reporter from a golf magazine says that Eric Trump told him several years ago that they had all the investment money they need from Russia.
  • In Sunny Isles Beach, “over 60 individuals with Russian passports or addresses bought nearly $100 million worth of units in Trump-branded condominium towers in a part of South Florida known as Little Moscow. Among them were Russian government officials who made million-dollar investments and a Ukrainian owner of two units who pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of stolen property in a money-laundering scheme involving a former Ukrainian prime minister.”
  • According to Adam Davidson of The New Yorker, “One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as ‘red flags’ for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump.”
  • According to The New York Times, “Federal prosecutors are investigating Kushner Companies, the real estate firm owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, over its use of a program that grants visas to wealthy overseas investors.”
  • Trump promised voters that he would put his businesses in a blind trust. But the actual trust, which reportedly gives his sons control of his company, isn’t actually blind in any meaningful way; it allows President Trump to withdraw money from the company at any time; and the Trump Organization will not even release the full language of the document to the public.
  • Finally, Trump promised voters that he would eventually release his tax returns. But he lied. Having gotten elected, he has simply kept concealing them. What truth is it that he is so determined to keep the people from learning?
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SEE ALSO:
 …
What do we mean by collusion? As the Columbia Journalism Review explored last year, there are a range of meanings, but a clean synthesis would be a secret compact or conspiracy with an illegal or deceitful aim. The examples of such cooperation, between Trump aides and agents of foreign governments, abound. So far, three people have pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about it. The unresolved question, at this stage of the investigation, is not whether such cooperation was attempted; it’s how successful it proved, how large an impact it actually had, who was involved, and whether they broke any laws.

There is, most prominently, the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer they believed had damaging information to offer about Hillary Clinton. In another meeting in August 2016, also at Trump Tower, former Blackwater chief Erik Prince (the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) brought together an Israeli social-media specialist and an emissary who said the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi wanted to aid the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos carried on conversations with at least two people he believed had substantial connections to the Russian government. Roger Stone, an on-again, off-again Trump adviser, exchanged messages with the hacker Guccifer 2.0, a Russian intelligence agent who released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.

This leaves out plenty of other examples of peculiar but less fleshed-out stories, including Trump campaign aide Carter Page’s mysterious trips to Russia and Hungary; fired National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s post-election discussions with Russia; and Jared Kushner’s reported attempt to establish a “back channel” to allow the Trump transition team to communicate with Russia outside of standard channels. There may be other examples that are not yet known to the public.

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IN ADDITION, PLEASE SEE:
Josh Marshall, “Stop Talking about ‘Norms’,” TPM [Talking Points Memorandum], May 23, 2018 [emphasis ADDED]:

[W]e’re confusing ourselves with the language of norms. Norms are tripwires to avoid abuses of office. But even as we see in front of our eyes the most extreme abuses of office we’re still talking about norms. That’s nuts. The abuses of office are the big thing.

Let’s say it again: for more than a year, President Trump has continued a nonstop effort to cover up his and his associates’ CRIMES.You might say, “Well, wait. He hasn’t been charged with a crime yet.” Or “We don’t know yet whether he’s committed a crime.” Please. That’s highly dubious on its own terms. But obstruction of justice statutes universally do not require proof of an underlying crime. You’re not allowed to stymie or obstruct a lawful criminal investigation. Full stop. The effort to do so generally speaks for itself in creating a presumption of guilt.

As is often the case with Presidents, this goes beyond mere statutes: the point is the substance of obstructing justice which the President is not only clearly doing now but has been doing more or less openly for more than a year.

…[W]e’re confusing the issue. It’s not norms. The President is trying to obstruct and stymie and hamstring a lawful investigation into his own crimes and those of his associates: by repeatedly lying, firing and threatening to fire people, intervening in law enforcement decisions in his own interest, fabricating fake stories to impede the investigation. The list goes on and on and even those who know better are becoming inured to it. THE PRESIDENT IS IN THE MIDST OF A MASSIVE, MORE OR LESS PUBLIC AND MONTHS-LONG EFFORT TO COVER UP HIS OWN CRIMES AND THE CRIMES OF HIS ASSOCIATES. THAT’S REALLY CLEAR-CUT. It’s obvious to anyone why THAT’S NOT OKAY. So we need to state that clearly so everyone will know what is at stake. Otherwise, everything becomes a blur. We lose the thread, the significance. We should stop talking around the issue and say this as clearly as we can because our future depends on it.

***

PLUS:

Lili Loofbourow, “The America We Thought We Knew Is Gone,” Slate.com, June 28, 2018 [emphasis ADDED]:

A corrupt but weak president—this has been my comfort, his weakness—has been given a gift that will make him strong. After upholding the travel ban, weakening labor unions, and allowing crisis pregnancy centers to misrepresent themselves to women seeking help, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he was retiring before the midterm elections. That decision empowers a reality-television star who lost the popular vote by millions to reform the Supreme Court for at least a generation—a court that rather than rebut his claim to power has affirmed it. In his own branch, he asked James Comey for a loyalty oath and lamented not getting one from Jeff Sessions, whom he has repeatedly condemned for recusing himself in the Russia investigation, saying he never would have hired him as attorney general had he known. There is every reason to think he will do the same for a Supreme Court nominee. When Neil Gorsuch—who took the seat Mitch McConnell withheld from Merrick Garland—seemed to distance himself from the man who offered him the robes, Donald Trump reportedly considered pulling the nomination. Trump has said he will pardon himself if he needs to, a controversial stance that would likely need approval from the high court. Now he has been given a way to assure it. He holds the power over the person who can rubber-stamp him into invulnerability.

The capitulation of two branches of government to a terrifying third, elected by a minority, is not how our government was envisioned. That is frightening. It is also, depending on the America you want to live in, painful.

The problem isn’t simply that Trump—who styles himself a “law and order” president—values neither: He objected to the Central Park Five’s going free, despite the DNA evidence proving their innocence. He wanted their false imprisonment. It isn’t just that he advocates against due process, tars asylum applicants as criminals, and characterizes even their children as an “infestation.” It isn’t simply that he sees black men as intrinsically guilty, the same as brown refugees. It’s that he shouts about law and order while upholding the immunity of the rich and the cruel: He pardoned Joe Arpaio, who tortured undocumented immigrants in unlivable tent cities he openly called concentration camps, and, in pardoning Dinesh D’Souza, has signaled he will pardon his cronies if they are convicted for illegally helping him.

THIS IS OPEN CORRUPTION, AND IT HAS BEEN OPENLY EMBRACED.

…THERE IS NO MORE EQUIVOCATING TO DO. YOU DON’T HAVE TO EQUIVOCATE ABOUT TRUMP’S CORRUPTION—or Wilbur Ross’, or Scott Pruitt’s. You don’t have to parse whether a “falsehood” is really a “lie.” IT IS SIMPLY TRUE THAT THE PRESIDENT IS CORRUPT AND THAT HIS SUPPORTERS CELEBRATE HIS CORRUPTION. That twisted power has enfeebled the institutions that depend on the very things the president would call weak—honesty and honor and service. As those institutions collapse, so does a polity capable of reasoning without them.

For instance: Confused by the fever that’s seized it, the country has spent days debating the “civility” of a restaurant owner who asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, after she had defended the president’s policy putting children in cages as a “deterrent” to other migrantsHe called sitting members of Congress “crazy” and pettily insulted that same restaurant’s cleanliness. But Trump’s own discourse somehow doesn’t factor into this earnest discussion of civility.

It is as strange as it is dangerous that everyone—supporters and antagonists alike—now excises Trump from this discussion about how people should treat each other. Even more shocking, though, is that this impulse to cordon Trump off, either by forgiving or excepting him, has extended to the courts, where language must matter if the institution is to function. In upholding Trump’s ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries—which Sean Spicer spent days as Trump’s press secretary insisting was not a ban—the Supreme Court dismissed his many, many public statements that declared an intent to discriminate based on religion. (Note that the justices did the exact opposite—citing evidence that some members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission expressed “bias” against the baker’s religious belief—to rule in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.)

THE RESULT IS THAT TRUMP, A MAN WHO HAS REPEATEDLY SAID THAT HE ONLY RESPONDS TO CONSEQUENCES, HAS FACED NONE. HIS LIES MEET WITH NO INSTITUTIONAL RESISTANCE. Quite the contrary. His decision to say outrageous, incorrect, inflammatory things has paid off handsomely: His supporters believe them, and those in power will not acknowledge that he has said anything at all. The combined effect has rendered him immune to every standard we, as a country, once shared.

This is frightening enough to make denial attractive.

But it is important now to deny nothing, and to instead reiterate that he did say these things, even if the court has plugged its ears. It falls to us to state what the Supreme Court of the United States would not: His intent was to discriminate on the basis of religion—he campaigned on a “Muslim ban.” THAT IS NOT EQUIVOCAL. IT IS CLEAR. There’s even a tweet from a before-times Mike Pence saying, “Calls to ban Muslims from the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.” It is necessary to point out what’s true, because (and this is the painful lesson of this week) our institutions won’t. Trump’s call for a “Muslim ban” happened—it’s not our imagination! That the court ignored this neatly proves that the organs of democracy intended to prevent presidential abuse are the ones in denial, and show no sign of waking up.

The word hypocrisy bobs up in these discussions, but THE ISSUE—as many have pointed out—IS NOT HYPOCRISY, BECAUSE THOSE WHO ARE FAILING US DO NOT ASPIRE TO INTELLECTUAL OR MORAL CONSISTENCY IN THE FIRST PLACE. THERE IS NO NEGOTIATING WITH, OR APPEASING, OR EVEN ENGAGING A PARTY THAT FEELS NO RESPONSIBILITY TO THE TRUTH. LYING IS MORE THAN “UNCIVIL.” IT CORRODES relationships and trust, AND THE DAMAGE IT DOES IS PERMANENT. I know it’s fashionable these days to wear one’s cynicism on one’s sleeve: We predict every promise will be broken because expecting honesty is laughably naïve. This makes reality easier to live with and joke about. But it’s a symptom of national rot. Being lied to, constantly, is not the price of being governed. That we have naturalized this—that we expect nothing less, in fact—shows how far we’ve already gone down a bad, bad road. This was already an unhealthy country in many ways. But at least lies were still resented. Now they are celebrated.

The country we thought we shared is changing faster than anyone expected. I wrote last week about the cognitive mismatch I felt at the relative normalcy outside my window as our government punished parents by taking their children away—in many cases, permanently. One week later, I cannot unsee how much even my window has changed and will change. The party ruling our country has demonstrated there is no principle it will respect, no norm it will endure. My rights as a woman are in danger. Civil rights are in danger. And the republic is in danger.

THIS WILL LAST DECADES. The downturns my generation has already weathered—the 2008 crisis that hinged on obscure derivatives traded by a privileged few, robbing wealth from millions—were only the beginning. Education is now a luxury. Pensions barely exist. Health care is under threat. Retirement is, to those my age, a cruel joke. We’ve been waiting. For recovery, for relief, for some semblance of an American dream we can access.

It is clear, now, that there was nothing to wait for. In the time we’ve been waiting, the rich have only gotten richer and angrier and whiter, but it will never be enough for them. The good-faith ideological battle some thought right and left were waging turned out to be no such thing: Modern conservativism was never about small government. Or personal liberty—for women and people of color, anyway. It wasn’t about fiscal responsibility: The GOP passed a tax plan that has blown up our national debt, which is projected to reach 78 percent of America’s GDP by the end of this year, the highest it’s been since 1950. And Republicans are still not happy. They will pretend that this crisis they created will require “sacrifices,” gutting services poor Americans desperately need, like health care. The poor and disadvantaged will die.

Meanwhile, those in power will celebrate how much they deserve their wealth and how little anyone else deserves. And they will grab for more. You’d think they’d be happy: America now has the highest income inequality in the industrialized world. But even that is not enough. The greed is insatiable. And it is a greed not just for wealth but for domination—for permanent entitlement. What they want is to be served. At restaurants. On golf courses. In corporate offices. There is no form of protest they will respect: loud or silent, formal or spontaneous, civil or rude. Written petitions or marches on the streets. They don’t care. Those in power have been very clear about what they do care about. “We have more money and more brains and better houses and apartments and nicer boats,” Trump said Wednesday in a speech to his supporters, because he cannot help but say what he really means. “We are the elite.

That vicious little “we” excludes most of America. Those in power have cut off diplomatic relations with the country they’re meant to govern, and the party they’re meant to govern with. The point-of-no-return polarization that pundits still feebly warn against is already here. It is sad. It is true.

I started by talking about love. The country I believed in, which aspired to true equality of opportunity, and welcomed immigrants, and strove to make the American dream available to everyone, failed often. The ideal was never the reality, but at least there was an agreed-upon goal, one worth working toward in common. Even that is gone. The most vital trust that our government, as a whole, will protect the interests of the people has been violated.

***

AND:

Heather Digby Parton, “Straight-up outright corruption and nobody cares,” Hullabaloo, July 10, 2018 [emphasis ADDED]:

The president and all of his cronies are blatantly and openly corrupt and yet unless it is so overwhelming in dozens of different ways and is relentless chronicled in the press as it was with Pruitt, nobody gives a damn.
Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to work on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm while serving as President Trump’s personal attorney — an arrangement experts say raises conflict of interest concerns and could run afoul of federal ethics laws.’
His decision to continue representing foreign entities also departs from standard practice for presidential attorneys, who in the past have generally sought to sever any ties that could create conflicts with their client in the White House.

Standard disclaimer for the kids: this isn’t normal. It isn’t normal at all.