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After men in Spain got paternity leave, they wanted fewer kids

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Apparently they had not realized that taking care of newborns is a lot of work.  Corinne Purtill and Dan Kopf report in Quartz:

In March 2007, Spain introduced a national policy granting most new fathers two weeks of fully paid paternity leave. The policy proved exceptionally popular, with 55% of men eligible in the first year opting to take the paid time. The amount of leave covered by the program was doubled in 2017 and expanded to five weeks in 2018, with additional increases expected between now and 2021.

Economists studying the effects of the original 2007 policy examined what happened to families that had children just before and just after the program began, and found differences in the outcomes. While the early cohort of men who were eligible for paternity leave were just as likely to stay in the workforce as the men who weren’t eligible, they remained more engaged with childcare after their return to work, and their partners were more likely to stay in the workforce as well. In that sense, the program seems to have done what policy makers would have hoped.

Unexpectedly, though, the researchers also found that families who were eligible for the paternity leave were less likely to have kids in the future. In a study published in the Journal of Public Economics (paywall), economists Lídia Farré of the University of Barcelona and Libertad González of University of Pompeu Fabra estimate that two years on, parents who had been eligible for the newly introduced program were 7% to 15% less likely to have another kid than parents who just missed the eligibility cutoff. While the difference dissipated further into the future, even after six years, parents who had been eligible for the leave were still less likely to have a child again.

The researchers suggest an intriguing reason why.

After paternity leave was instituted, surveys of Spanish men ages 21 to 40 showed they desired fewer children than before. Farré and González think that spending more time with their children—or the prospect of having to do so—may have made men more acutely aware of the effort and costs associated with childrearing, and, as the researchers put it, “shifted their preferences from child quantity to quality.”

At the same time, women started showing preferences for slightly larger families—perhaps a sign that having more children seemed more desirable with a slightly more equitable balance of labor at home. . .

Continue reading. Graphs at the link are interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2019 at 1:15 pm

Facial-recognition technology is not ready for prime time

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From Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View newsletter this morning:

Facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police incorrectly identified members of the public in 96 percent of matches made between 2016 and 2018. (Meanwhile, US airports are on track to use face recognition on 97 percent of all passengers within four years.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2019 at 6:19 am

What Mueller Found on Russia and on Obstruction: A First Analysis

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Scott R. Anderson, Victoria Clark, Mikhaila Fogel, Sarah Grant, Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn, Quinta Jurecic, Lev Sugarman, Margaret Taylor, and Benjamin Wittes write at Lawfare:

Really the best day since he got elected,” said Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, about a day on which 400 pages dropped into the public’s lap describing relentless presidential misconduct and serial engagements between his campaign and a foreign actor. The weeks-long lag between Attorney General William Barr’s announcement of Robert Mueller’s top-line findings and the release of the Mueller report itself created space for an alternate reality in which the document released today might give rise to such a statement. But the cries of vindication do not survive even the most cursory examination of the document itself.

No, Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and no, he did not conclude that President Trump had obstructed justice. But Mueller emphatically did not find that there had been “no collusion” either. Indeed, he described in page after damning page a dramatic pattern of Russian outreach to figures close to the president, including to Trump’s campaign and his business; Mueller described receptivity to this outreach on the part of those figures; he described a positive eagerness on the part of the Trump campaign to benefit from illegal Russian activity and that of its cutouts; he described serial lies about it all. And he described as well a pattern of behavior on the part of the president in his interactions with law enforcement that is simply incompatible with the president’s duty to “take care” that the laws are “faithfully executed”—a pattern Mueller explicitly declined to conclude did not obstruct justice.

The Mueller report is a document this country will be absorbing for months to come. Below is a first crack at analyzing the features that are most salient to us.

The report answers a great many questions, resolving a raft of concerning issues that had cried out for public resolution. Some of these questions it resolves in Trump’s favor, thereby reducing the long list of concerns that reasonable people will harbor about the president. But by creating a rigorous factual record concerning both Russian intervention in 2016 and presidential obstruction of the effort to investigate that intervention, the report poses other questions acutely. Most importantly, it poses the question of whether this conduct is acceptable—not whether it’s lawful or prosecutable or whether the evidence is admissible, but whether as a nation we choose to accept it, and if not, what means we exercise to reject it. Mueller is not a political figure, but the record he has created puts these fundamentally political questions squarely before us.

Before turning to what’s in the Mueller report, let’s pause a moment to note something that’s not in it: classified information. The document contains no so-called “portion marking,” which denotes classified material. While it describes sensitive intelligence matters, it does so in an unclassified manner. What’s more, it is almost entirely devoid of discussion of the counterintelligence equities at issue in the Russia matter. This is a prosecutor’s report, focused entirely on application of fact to criminal laws and to assessment of whether legal standards were met. The report indicates that the counterintelligence components of the investigation remained with the FBI, with Mueller’s office passing counterintelligence material produced over the course of the investigation back to the bureau. This is a document summarizing a criminal probe and the thinking of the prosecutors who ran it—not a document describing the management of threats to the country.

Like the report itself, we begin with Mueller’s resolution of matters related to Russia.

Results of the Russia Investigation

Consistent with the special counsel’s mandate, the first volume of the Mueller report focuses on “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” Toward this end, its first two substantive sections go into depth on Russia’s “active measures” social media campaign, as well as the “hacking and dumping” operations through which it accessed and disseminated private emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and others. Both provide a fascinating account of Russian influence operations, but neither adds much to the indictments that the Mueller team has previously filed against involved persons. Instead, the important element of Volume 1 is the discussion of “Russian government links to and contacts with the Trump campaign”—or the possibility of what some might describe as “collusion.”

As the report is careful to explain, “collusion” is neither a criminal offense nor a legal term of art with a clear definition, despite its frequent use in discussions of the special counsel’s mandate. Mueller and his team instead examined the relationships between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government through the far narrower lens of criminal conspiracy. To establish a criminal conspiracy, a prosecutor must show, among other elements, that two or more persons agreed to either violate a federal criminal law or defraud the United States. This “meeting of the minds” is ultimately the piece the Mueller team felt it could not prove, leading it not to pursue any conspiracy charges against members of the Trump campaign, even as it pursued them against Russian agents.

This conclusion is far from the full vindication that chants of “no collusion” imply, a fact driven home by the detailed factual record the Mueller report puts forward. In some cases, there was indeed a meeting of the minds between Trump campaign officials and Russia, just not in pursuit of a criminal objective. In others, members of the Trump campaign acted criminally—as evidenced by the guilty pleas and indictments that the Mueller team secured—but did so on their own. At times, these efforts even worked toward the same objective as the Russian government, but on seemingly parallel tracks as opposed to in coordination. None of this amounted to a criminal conspiracy that the Mueller team believed it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But the dense network of interactions, missed opportunities, and shared objectives between the Trump campaign and the Russian government remains profoundly disturbing.

This report shows that the Trump campaign was reasonably aware of the Russian efforts, at least on the hacking side. They were aware the Russians sought to help them win. They welcomed that assistance. Instead of warning the American public, they devised a public relations and campaign strategy that sought to capitalize on Russia’s illicit assistance. In other words, the Russians and the Trump campaign shared a common goal, and each side worked to achieve that goal with basic knowledge of the other side’s intention. They just didn’t agree to work toward that goal together.

Importantly, the report includes several areas in which the Mueller report really does meaningfully exonerate the Trump campaign.

First, while the report notes that some Trump campaign members shared tweets from Internet Research Agency (IRA)-controlled accounts and even agreed to assist in promoting IRA-devised rallies, the special counsel investigation did not conclude that any official of the Trump campaign was aware the solicitations were coming from foreign persons. Being duped is not the same as committing a crime, and Mueller conclusively puts to rest the question of whether the Trump campaign was somehow aiding the Russian social media operation.

Second, the Mueller report answers lingering questions about a number of previously reported events about which people harbored reasonable suspicions. The Mueller team examined the reported contacts between campaign members, including Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions, with Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 and found that the conversations were brief and nonsubstantive, and took place in public. Similarly, Mueller examined contacts between then-Senator Sessions and Kislyak at Sessions’s Senate office in September 2016 and determined that the two did not discuss anything related to the election. That is consistent with Sessions’s account of the matter and effectively clears him on the question; nothing untoward seems to have occured.

Additionally, the special counsel’s office describes a set of interactions between campaign members—in particular, Kushner—and the head of a D.C.-based think tank, the Center for the National Interest (CNI). The investigation found no evidence that CNI facilitated back channels between the campaign and the Russian government.

Finally, the special counsel’s report puts to rest suggestions that the Republican National Convention platform on Ukraine was altered at the direction of Trump or Russia. While Trump advisor J.D. Gordon did champion an effort on behalf of the campaign to soften a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform on supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, the report makes clear that Gordon was not directed to seek the change by Trump. He did so after deciding that the change would better align the platform with Trump’s stated policy.

So that’s all good news for Trump. Reporting on these matters had accurately described these events as having occurred, but the Mueller report should end speculation that they were evidence of collusion or anything untoward.

The rest of the report is far less rosey for Trump World.

While the report does not find criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia, it describes a set of contacts that may not involve chargeable criminality but might reasonably be described as “collusion.” In some of these cases, there was a clear “meeting of the minds”—or an effort to establish one—between members of the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government, but the object of that agreement was not a federal crime. If these episodes fall short of a criminal conspiracy, they nonetheless reveal an alarming reality.

The report details numerous contacts during the presidential campaign, some of which are well known—for example, the cases of George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, two low-level recruits to the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team who became the focus of efforts by Russian agents to cultivate a relationship. A higher profile case is that of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The report describes Manafort’s extensive ties to Russia in detail, ties he cultivated through his prior work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and the former Russian-backed government in Ukraine. Throughout his time with the Trump campaign—Manafort resigned in August 2016 but continued to advise the Trump campaign through at least November—Manafort maintained consistent contact with his “longtime” associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian who, according to the report, “the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.” Kilimnik attempted to have Manafort pass along a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to be friendly to Russian interests, though the Mueller team was unable to identify evidence that Manafort did so. Manafort in turn instructed his deputy Rick Gates to provide Kilimnik with polling data and other information regarding the Trump campaign’s electoral strategy, which he understood would be passed on to Deripaska and others.

A particularly troubling example is the protracted negotiation over the Trump Tower Moscow project, in which President Trump was personally involved. In September 2015, the Trump Organization, acting through attorney Michael Cohen, restarted negotiations over a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow that had fallen through several years prior. Trump himself signed a letter of intent for the project in October 2015, on the same day as the third Republican primary debate. One of Cohen’s interlocutors on the deal, businessman Felix Sater, repeatedly raised the possibility of using the deal to enhance Trump’s electoral prospects. In January 2016, Cohen reached out to Russian officials in an attempt to contact Russian President Vladimir Putin and secure support for the project, which ultimately resulted in an invitation for Cohen to visit Moscow to discuss it. Cohen also raised the prospect of Trump himself visiting Russia to discuss the deal, once in late 2015 and again in spring 2016—a possibility that Cohen indicated Trump was open to if it would facilitate the deal. Neither trip came together. Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about how long into 2016 the Trump Tower Moscow project was negotiated and Trump’s personal knowledge of it.

There are other examples too. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2019 at 8:57 am

Listen to TurboTax Lie to Get Out of Refunding Overcharged Customers

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Justin Elliott and Meg Marco report in ProPublica:

The makers of TurboTax have long been luring customers into paying for a service that they promised the government they’d give away for free. Now they’re lying to customers to avoid giving refunds.

We’ve heard from 16 people who say they were denied refunds and told that the truly free version — Free File — is a government product that’s not run by TurboTax. Ten others reported being told that ProPublica’s stories were inaccurate, or that our coverage is “fake news” or “fictitious.”

None of that is true.

TurboTax’s Free File product is created and run by the company. It is offered as part of a deal between the tax software industry and the government. The deal is specifically designed to keep the IRS from creating its own free online filing system.

Several people gave us recordings of their calls.

Here’s audio from one caller, a graduate student in Virginia whose income was around $16,000 — meaning he easily qualified for TurboTax’s Free File. He was charged $105.


The graduate student asked the agent why there were no links to the actual free version — Free File — on the TurboTax website:

TurboTax Agent: “Because it is an IRS product we built for them.”

Caller: “But you guys are the ones managing it right?”

TurboTax Agent: “No, the IRS is the one managing it.”

We gave the recording to Intuit, which makes TurboTax, but a spokesperson did not answer questions about the call. He said in a statement, “We will look into this directly with the agent.” Intuit has repeatedly declined to answer questions about its refund policy.

Other readers also reported being told that TurboTax was not responsible for Free File.

“They said their free service is actually owned by IRS, not them,” said Becky from California.

Anna from Massachusetts said that a supervisor told her that Free File is “a government product that is simply branded as TurboTax.”

Christopher from Virginia said he was told “that the IRS uses the Turbo Tax platform for Free File but that TurboTax is not responsible for it.”

Laurie from Washington said she was told by a TurboTax agent that ProPublica was going to run a retraction. (Our stories are accurate, so there’s nothing to retract.) Laurie was charged $130 by TurboTax. Her adjusted gross income was just $376.

An Intuit spokesperson previously said that no material provided to call agents included “derogatory terms about ProPublica.”

Other callers said that Intuit representatives told them the company has not given anyone a refund. That is also false.

After our recent stories, we heard from dozens of people who reported calling the company and getting their money back.

In a separate development on Monday, the Los Angeles city attorney sued Intuit and H&R Block under California’s unfair competition law.

The two suits, which cite ProPublica’s reporting, demand that the companies pay penalties and restitution for deceiving customers.

“Low-income people without someone to stand up for them have not been able to take advantage of what should be a free service,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in an interview. “That’s wrong.”

He noted the suit was filed under the same law as his office’s high-profile case against Wells Fargo.

Asked about the lawsuit, an H&R Block spokesperson said the company “is proud to have helped millions of Americans with our four free tax filing options.” An Intuit spokesperson said in a statement: “Any suggestion that Intuit does not support the IRS Free File Program is flat wrong. We stand behind our actions as being both appropriate and consistent with our values.”

Update, May 9, 2019: Following publication of this story, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Finance Committee, said in a statement: “ProPublica’s latest reporting provides more evidence of dirty tricks from Intuit. Customers eligible to file for free were allegedly denied refunds and given false information about the Free File program.”

Wyden, co-sponsor of a bill that would make the Free File program permanent — the fate of which is now in doubt — added: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2019 at 3:24 pm

The Supreme Court, the Census Case, and the Truth

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The US is falling, one vital institution at a time. The Supreme Court seems next in line. Linda Greenhouse writes in the NY Times:

The smart money says the Trump administration is going to prevail at the Supreme Court in its effort to add a citizenship question to next year’s census. Having read the transcript and listened to the audio file of the recent argument, I don’t challenge that forecast.

Neither am I going to argue with the experts’ prediction that adding the citizenship question, which has been omitted since 1950 from the census form that goes to every household, will lead immigrant families to fail to return the form out of fear caused by the Trump administration’s brutal anti-immigrant policies. The resulting differential undercount will penalize immigrant-rich cities and states in political representation and federal funding.

Harmful as that impact would be on the affected areas, I want to argue here that validating the Trump administration’s cynical hijacking of the census would have a devastating effect on the integrity of the Supreme Court.

Never mind that three Federal District Courts, ruling since the first of the year in three cases, have found the addition of the citizenship question to be procedurally improper or flat-out unconstitutional. There are respectable contrary arguments that might be made, under the Administrative Procedure Act or the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause, or there would be, had the administration acted in the good faith that Judge Jesse Furman, ruling in the case now before the court, found to be conspicuously lacking.

Perhaps the justices who appear poised to overturn the lower-court decisions really believe that Congress has delegated its constitutional census obligation to the secretary of commerce to conduct the enumeration however he wishes without judicial supervision. Maybe they really think that the 18 states suing the Commerce Department lack standing because any harm that befalls them from the citizenship question is due not to the government but to the “illegal” acts of immigrants who fail to answer the census. These propositions constitute the core of the administration’s argument. If the justices are honestly persuaded by them, well, that’s litigation for you. It’s a zero-sum game in which someone wins and someone loses.

But if the plaintiff states are going to lose, it seems to me that it matters greatly how they lose. What was depressing and even scary about the April 23 argument was the disingenuous lengths to which the conservative justices were willing to go to tilt the case in the administration’s favor. They played dumb. They pretended not to know what they surely knew: that the citizenship question will depress the census count in a way that is predictably harmful and that the administration’s brief concealed the real story of how the citizenship question made its way onto the census. In other words, I have enough respect for the justices’ basic intelligence, which includes the ability to read the same briefs and opinions that I read, to conclude that they know full well what game is afoot.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the transcript. The conservative justices were at pains to challenge the very idea that the citizenship question could depress noncitizens’ response rates, despite the fact that numerous Census Bureau studies have shown that to be the case. “What jumps out,” Justice Samuel Alito said to Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood of New York, “is the fact that citizens and noncitizens differ in a lot of respects other than citizenship. They differ in socioeconomic status. They differ in education. They differ in language ability.” And so, he went on, “I don’t think you have to be much of a statistician to wonder about the legitimacy of concluding” that the response rate would go down “because of this one factor.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch weighed in. “There could be multiple reasons why individuals don’t complete the form.” He continued: “We don’t have any evidence disaggregating the reasons why the forms are left uncompleted. What do you do with that? I mean, normally we would have a regression analysis that would disaggregate the potential cause and identify to a 95th percentile degree of certainty what the reason is that persons are not filling out this form and we could attribute it to this question. We don’t have anything like that here. So what are we supposed to do about that?”

Justice Alito then returned to his theme. There were “many factors that could explain a decline when you’re distinguishing between citizens and noncitizens,” he said.

When Ms. Underwood started to explain that the Census Bureau studies had controlled for the differences, Justice Gorsuch broke in. “It’s fair to say we don’t have this isolated, though, isn’t it?” he asked.

At this point in the transcript, Justice Stephen Breyer’s exasperation with his colleagues almost jumps off the page. “There are a million factors,” he said with evident sarcasm. “There are pet dogs, you know. I mean, there are cats.”

It fell to Justice Elena Kagan to bring the argument back to earth. “Would it be right to say, General,” she said to Ms. Underwood, “that it was the Census Bureau’s conclusion, a bureau full of statisticians, that it was the citizenship question that was driving the differential response rates?”

“That is correct,” Ms. Underwood replied.

Among the other conservative justices, Justice Clarence Thomas, as is his custom, said nothing, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh said relatively little. Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t join in the game that Justices Alito and Gorsuch were playing, but he did seem strangely obtuse when he observed to Ms. Underwood that “we’ve had demographic questions on the census, I don’t know how far back, but certainly, it’s quite common. Sex, age, things like that. ‘Do you own your house?’ ‘Do you own a radio?’ I mean, the questions go quite beyond how many people there are.”

The chief justice’s observations, while accurate, made no sense in the context of this case, as Ms. Underwood diplomatically pointed out. “We have no comparable evidence about any of those other questions that they depress the count in this substantial a way and in this disproportionate a way,” she said.

And what is there to say about Solicitor General Noel Francisco’s argument for the Trump administration? It’s part of our current national tragedy that an allergy to the truth has infected the Department of Justice from the top down. Mr. Francisco maintained in both his brief and his oral argument that it was the Justice Department that urged Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, to add the citizenship question, ostensibly to provide for more precise enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Aside from the fact that the Trump administration has shown no interest in protecting voting rights and that no administration has asked for a citizenship question in the 54 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law, there is one problem with the solicitor general’s narrative: It is demonstrably untrue.

According to the record methodically compiled in Judge Furman’s District Court courtroom, Secretary Ross was urged to add the citizenship question by Steve Bannon, a White House adviser at the time, and the anti-immigrant crusader Kris Kobach. Mr. Ross shopped the idea around the federal government for a year and was initially turned down by the Department of Homeland Security as well as the Justice Department. He finally made a direct pitch to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who agreed to get him a letter that would request the citizenship question and provide the Voting Rights Act rationale — the rationale that Judge Furman called pretextual.

So when Mr. Francisco told the justices that there was “no evidence in this record” that Secretary Ross would have added the citizenship question “had the Department of Justice not requested it,” he was at that moment the luckiest person in the courtroom: The red light on the lectern came on, indicating the end of his argument time. No one could ask a follow-up question, including Justice Kagan, who earlier had observed to Mr. Francisco that “you can’t read this record without sensing that this need is a contrived one.”

This sordid tale might be just so much inside-the-Beltway gossip except that it goes directly to the legal matter at hand in the pending case, Department of Commerce v. New York. The administration is demanding deference to its decision on what to ask on the census. Yet experts at the Census Bureau have testified that asking the citizenship question will make the 2020 census less accurate. As Solicitor General Underwood of New York put it in her brief for the plaintiffs, addressing the Justice Department’s purported request for the question, “Settled principles of administrative law foreclose any deference when a decision maker falsely claims to rely on the expertise of another agency to defend its determination.”

The basic legal claim of New York and the other states is that adding the citizenship question is “arbitrary and capricious,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. As the states’ brief explains: “A decision maker acts arbitrarily by purporting to rely on another agency’s expertise when, in fact, the decision maker instructed that agency rather than the other way around. Such illusory reliance undercuts the foundational premise for judicial deference to administrative action: that the decision resulted from an exercise of specialized expertise that courts lack. When a decision maker purports to rely on an exercise of expert judgment that never happened, there is nothing to which the courts can defer.”

In the administration’s brief, Mr. Francisco complains that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2019 at 10:19 am

So THAT’s why Trump doesn’t want to release his tax returns! Decade in the Red: Trump Tax Figures Show Over $1 Billion in Business Losses

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Update: It occurs to me that Trump’s 1985-1994 losses may have pushed him into darker deals: see “Keeping Trump’s Tax Returns Secret Is an Insanely Huge Security Risk” by Jonathan Chait in New York. That begins:

Last year, the New York Times found that Trump inherited more than $400 million from his father, largely through a series of illegal schemes. Now in a new report, the Times discovered that, from 1985 through 1994, Trump businesses suffered losses of more than $1 billion.

It’s hardly a mystery why Trump is desperate to keep his tax returns secret. The most innocent possible narrative they might reveal is that he’s a horrible businessman who relied on handouts from his father. The question is why anybody else would support his claim.

Perhaps the most explosive finding in Robert Mueller’s investigation is that Trump was secretly negotiating a building deal in Moscow that promised profits of several hundred million dollars, with no risk. Russia habitually gives out sweetheart deals to its overseas political partners, structured in the form of putatively legitimate investments that disguise simple bribes. George Sorial, he current vice-president of Trump’s business, dismisses that deal in a Wall Street Journal op-ed as “a fantasy that no one in the office took seriously.” (Sorial does not explain why, or even mention that, Trump signed a letter of intent for this project if nobody took it seriously.)

What the Times reporting underscores is how utterly vulnerable Trump must have been to an offer like this. The Times information only covers one (very bad) period in Trump’s life, and he did recover by learning how to profit off his image as a successful businessman by renting out his name. Still, there’s little reason to think he stopped being a horrible capitalist. “Year after year,” the Times finds, “Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.”

Keeping Trump’s tax returns private is not like keeping Mitt Romney’s tax returns private. This is a man who was handed hundreds of millions of dollars, flushed it down the toilet, and was desperate to maintain his image of wealth and success. You couldn’t invent a more inviting target for a foreign intelligence service to manipulate.

Republicans have, incredibly, treated the question of obtaining Trump’s tax returns as a pure political vendetta. Democrats “dislike him with a passion, and they want his tax returns to destroy him,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. “That’s all that this whole process is about, and it’s Nixonian to the core.” . . .

Read the whole thing. /update

Russ Buettner and Susan Craig report in the NY Times:

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir “Trump: The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

The data — printouts from Mr. Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax form, the 1040, for the years 1985 to 1994 — represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view. Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, journalists at The Times and elsewhere have been trying to piece together Mr. Trump’s complex and concealed finances. While The Times did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it. The Times was then able to find matching results in the I.R.S. information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed. It also confirmed significant findings using other public documents, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial records from the newspaper’s 2018 investigation into the origin of the president’s wealth.

The White House’s response to the new findings has shifted over time.

Several weeks ago, a senior official issued a statement saying: “The president got massive depreciation and tax shelter because of large-scale construction and subsidized developments. That is why the president has always scoffed at the tax system and said you need to change the tax laws. You can make a large income and not have to pay large amount of taxes.”

On Saturday, after further inquiries from The Times, a lawyer for the president, Charles J. Harder, wrote that the tax information was “demonstrably false,” and that the paper’s statements “about the president’s tax returns and business from 30 years ago are highly inaccurate.” He cited no specific errors, but on Tuesday added that “I.R.S. transcripts, particularly before the days of electronic filing, are notoriously inaccurate” and “would not be able to provide a reasonable picture of any taxpayer’s return.”

Mark J. Mazur, a former director of research, analysis and statistics at the I.R.S., said that, far from being considered unreliable, data used to create such transcripts had undergone quality control for decades and had been used to analyze economic trends and set national policy. In addition, I.R.S. auditors often refer to the transcripts as “handy” summaries of tax returns, said Mr. Mazur, now director of the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington.

In fact, the source of The Times’s newly obtained information was able to provide several years of unpublished tax figures from the president’s father, the builder Fred C. Trump. They matched up precisely with Fred Trump’s actual returns, which had been obtained by The Times in the earlier investigation.

Mr. Trump built a business licensing his name, became a television celebrity and ran for the White House by branding himself a self-made billionaire. “There is no one my age who has accomplished more,” he told Newsweek in 1987, adding that the ultimate scoreboard was “the unfortunate, obvious one: money.” Yet over the years, the actual extent of his wealth has been the subject of much doubt and debate. He broke with four decades of precedent in refusing to release any of his tax returns as a presidential candidate, and until now only a few pages of his returns have become public. Last year’s Times investigation found that he had received at least $413 million in 2018 dollars from his father.

The new tax information does not answer questions raised by House Democrats in their pursuit of the last six years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns — about his recent business dealings and possible foreign sources of financing and influence. Nor does it offer a fundamentally new narrative of his picaresque career.

But in the granular detail of tax results, it gives a precise accounting of the president’s financial failures and of the constantly shifting focus that would characterize his decades in business. In contrast to his father’s stable and profitable empire of rental apartments in Brooklyn and Queens, Mr. Trump’s primary sources of income changed year after year, from big stock earnings, to a single year of more than $67.1 million in salary, to a mysterious $52.9 million windfall in interest income. But always, those gains were overwhelmed by losses on his casinos and other projects.

The new information also suggests that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2019 at 4:11 pm

Putin Accomplice Mitch McConnell Says Case Closed

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

During the 2016 election, CIA director John Brennan informed congressional leaders that Russian intelligence was interfering in the election in an effort to help Donald Trump win. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the conclusion, and depicted it as a frame-up. “You’re trying to screw the Republican candidate,” he charged, warning that he would refuse to sign a bipartisan statement warning Russia to back off. If blocking Russia meant hindering the Trump campaign, McConnell wasn’t interested.

This morning, McConnell took to the Senate floor to deliver a coda to this historic act. In a speech that was notably smarmy even by his standards, the Senate Majority Leader declared the Mueller report to be “case closed,” accused Democrats of refusing to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s election, and called for an end to all investigation or inquiries of Mueller’s findings.

“They told everyone there’d been a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign,” he announced. “Yet on this central question the special counsel’s finding is clear: case closed. Case closed.”

First of all, Mueller’s report did say it was unable to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia. But that is not the same thing as saying “case closed.” Indeed, on some of the most important avenues of potential conspiracy, Mueller was simply not able to establish conclusive answers. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, gave 75 pages of detailed polling to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian agent, but Mueller concedes he “could not assess what Kilimnik (or others he may have given it to) did with it.” Nor could Mueller fully nail down all of Roger Stone’s communications with WikiLeaks.

Second, one of the reasons Mueller could not establish a criminal conspiracy is that Trump signaled his willingness to pardon aides who stayed loyal, thus encouraging them to withhold cooperation. Attorney General William Barr has argued that the failure to prove an underlying crime means Trump should not be charged with obstructing justice, but of course, this means obstructing justice is okay as long as the obstruction works.
Third, McConnell’s speech danced around the massive evidence of obstruction of justice committed by Trump in the Mueller report. His speech, incredibly, didn’t even mention this topic, which occupies half of the Mueller report.

Instead, he addressed it in a backhanded way by defending Barr. The attorney general is a “distinguished public servant whose career stretches back almost 50 years,” he insisted. “He’s widely respected. Nobody claims he has any prior personal allegiance to this president.” That’s true, nobody does say Barr has any personal allegiance to Trump. Nor for that matter does McConnell, who has let his personal irritation with Trump’s lack of discipline slip into the media on occasion. What both men have instead is a partisan allegiance to Trump, which drives them to protect a figure they understand to be erratic and unfit for office, because doing so advances their interests.

McConnell framed his speech as a call for unity, insisting Russia’s goal was to divide the public. “Russia set out to sow discord. To create chaos in American politics and undermine confidence in our democracy,” he said. To continue pursuing the massive evidence of corruption and misconduct in the Mueller report would somehow help Putin. If Americans “remain consumed by unhinged partisanship,” McConnell said, “and keep dividing ourselves … Putin and his agents need only stand on the sidelines and watch as their job is done for them.”

Note here that McConnell is again denying the same thing he denied in 2016: that Russia intervened not just to “divide” Americans but specifically in order to help Trump win. If American political leaders in both parties had closed ranks and rejected Russia’s intervention, it might have backfired. Instead, McConnell assisted their effort.

He continues to assist by using all his powers to prevent Trump from being held accountable for his misconduct. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2019 at 3:25 pm

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