How long can Jason Chaffetz keep his head wherever it is?: Kuwait could pay up to $60,000 for party at Trump Hotel in Washington
Surely Jason Chaffetz has heard of the emoluments clause even if Donald Trump has not. Julia Harte of Reuters reports some non-fake news:
The Kuwaiti government could pay up to $60,000 to President Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington for a party on Saturday that will be an early test of Trump’s promise to turn over profits from such events to the U.S. Treasury.
The Kuwait Embassy is hosting an event to mark their National Day. Similar National Day celebrations at the Trump International Hotel for a crowd of several hundred can run from $40,000 to $60,000, according to cost estimates from the hotel seen by Reuters. The hotel declined to comment on the figures.
One of Trump’s lawyers, Sheri Dillon, pledged at a Jan. 11 press conference to donate any Trump Hotel profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.
The White House and Alan Garten, the general counsel for the Trump Organization, did not return calls for comment on whether any profits from foreign government payments to the hotel have been donated. Dillon’s firm declined to comment.
Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah told Reuters he was paying the Trump Hotel an amount similar to what he had paid the Four Seasons hotel to host a previous National Day event. He said he expected the event to draw 500 or 600 people, but declined to disclose specific cost details.
The Four Seasons, which declined to comment, also charges prices in the $40,000 to $60,000 range for such events, according to cost estimates seen by Reuters.
A watchdog group led by former ethics lawyers for the Obama and George W. Bush administrations sued Trump in federal court in January, accusing him of violating the Constitution by allowing foreign government payments to businesses he owns.
Some ethics lawyers say even if Trump turns over all of the profits from the Kuwait National Day party, he would still be in violation of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
They say all of the income from the event, not just profits, would need to be donated to the U.S. Treasury to avoid contravening the constitutional ban.
Trump resigned in February as an officer of Trump Old Post Office LLC, the company that operates the hotel, but Richard Painter, Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, said the resignation made no difference as long as Trump retained an interest in it. . .
Chaffetz was very enthusiastic about investigating Hillary, spending millions of dollars and finding nothing. Yet he seems strangely shy about shouldering his responsibilities regarding Trump’s flagrant violations. I would think those would be low-hanging fruit, but Chaffetz is determined to take a Pollyanna attitude.
Jason Chaffetz is a putz: a weak man placed by mistake in a position of great responsibility. His children must be ashamed of him.
Asked on Quora.com, and a very interesting answer from Michael Feely:
Who is leaking all the juicy political stuff from the Trump White House (February 2017)?
Is it Reince Priebus?
Probably. But I bet he isn’t alone.
As was pointed out:
Interviews with current and former Trump associates reveal an executive who is fond of promoting rivalries among subordinates, wary of delegating major decisions, scornful of convention and fiercely insistent on a culture of loyalty around him.
I count roughly five different power centers in the Donald’s White House, which is pretty remarkable given the fact that it’s not even fully staffed yet.
- Steve Bannon / Steve Miller : The outsider economic nationalist faction. Loyal to a particular vision of a right wing economic populist America, if not to the Donald particularly. Least likely to be responsible for any leaks to any organization other than Breitbart.
- Reince Priebus : The Washington GOP faction. Loyal to the GOP as an organization. More than capable of leaking to various members of the press via various channels to undercut any of the other White House factions, as he cares whether the Party survives, not the Donald’s administration.
- Jared / Ivanka / Don Jr. / Eric : The family faction. Loyal to the Donald above just about anything else, so unlikely to leak anything for the sake of damaging him – but more than likely to leak things to damage especially the Bannon faction and anyone else whose goals or ideology might undercut dear ol’ dad. Also less skilled at politics in general, and therefore likely as not to drop information by accident.
- Mike Pence : The religious conservative faction. Could probably tolerate Bannon or Priebus, but would be very happy to see the Donald and family go down, both in the name of his personal ambition, and because the Donald isn’t going to bring much of his A game to the anti-gay, anti-woman policies Pence most wants to see happen.
- The civil service : There are over 100 permanent White House staff, and some unknown number of junior West Wing staff – some of whom, for all I know might be holdovers from the Obama administration, given how unprepared the Trump administration was to take over. Any Obama holdovers would almost certainly be happy to make the current administration look as bad as possible. The permanent staff is supposed to be apolitical, but given that the Trump administration has blown away most of the norms of Washington politics, one or two of them might have decided to violate a few norms of their own.
A NY Times editorial shows grotesque waste of money spent addressing a non-existent problem:
Let’s be clear: The moral case against President Trump’s plan to uproot and expel millions of unauthorized immigrants is open-and-shut. But what about the economic cost? This is where deeply shameful collides with truly stupid.
The Migration Policy Institute reported in 2013 that the federal government spends more each year on immigration enforcement — through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol — than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The total has risen to more than $19 billion a year, and more than $306 billion in all since 1986, measured in 2016 dollars. This exceeds the sum of all spending for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Secret Service; the Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
ICE and the Border Patrol already refer more cases for federal prosecution than the entire Justice Department, and the number of people they detain each year (more than 400,000) is greater than the number of inmates being held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for all other federal crimes.
That is blank-check, steroidal enforcement — and Mr. Trump and the Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, want more.
The size of the Border Patrol more than doubled in the 1990s and doubled again after 9/11. Mr. Trump ran on a pledge to expand the patrol and triple the size of ICE; Mr. Kelly has obliged. His enforcement memos last week seek to increase the force by 10,000 ICE officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
Or maybe more, if you consider the administration’s trial balloon, recently floated, to mobilize 100,000 National Guard troops and add them to the mix. Such an effort would surely exceed, in scale and futility, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send the Army and that National Guard to the Southwest to fruitlessly chase Pancho Villa in 1916. How much will it all cost? Mr. Trump isn’t saying, if he has bothered to check.
Mr. Trump also talks about a 2,000-mile, double-thick, very high wall along the border from San Diego to Brownsville, Tex. There are already 700 miles of fencing on the border, plus watchtowers, sensors, floodlights and razor wire, and boots and all-terrain vehicles on the ground and drones in the air. In 2009 the Government Accountability Office estimated the cost of the existing fence at $2.8 million to $3.9 million per mile, but that was for the relatively easy stretches.
Estimates of the full price of Mr. Trump’s great wall vary. He said it would cost $8 billion, then changed that to $10 billion to $12 billion. “Fat chance,” the MIT Technology Review said last October, finding Mr. Trump guilty of “bad math” and placing the real figure at $27 billion to $40 billion for 1,000 miles.
But wait — didn’t Mr. Trump also say the cost to America would actually be zero, since he would force Mexico to pay for the wall, even though Mexico says it won’t? He did. But then he said Mexico would reimburse us for the wall, which is to say … who knows? Mr. Kelly’s memos include a plan to catalog United States aid to Mexico, suggesting that he is looking for money to raid for a Trump wall fund, and that this so-called wall remains firmly in the realm of delusion. . .
Continue reading. Emphasis added.
Wait, there’s more. All the people Mr. Kelly rounds up will have to be detained and deported at taxpayer expense [instead of working at their jobs and paying payroll taxes – LG]. Congress requires the Homeland Security Department to maintain about 34,000 immigration detention beds, at an estimated annual cost of $2 billion, or $5.5 million a day. Adding thousands more cells and beds will surely send that bill — like the profits of the private-prison contractors who have been cashing in on all this misery — through the roof.
And there’s more beyond that.
Smells of desperation: Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories
Greg Miller and Adam Entous report in the Washington Post:
The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.
Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.
The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.
The White House on Friday acknowledged those interactions with the FBI but did not disclose that it then turned to other officials who agreed to do what the FBI would not — participate in White House-arranged calls with news organizations, including The Washington Post.
Two of those officials spoke on the condition of anonymity — a practice President Trump has condemned.
The officials broadly dismissed Trump associates’ contacts with Russia as infrequent and inconsequential. But the officials would not answer substantive questions about the issue, and their comments were not published by The Post and do not appear to have been reported elsewhere.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed that the White House communicated with officials with the aim of contesting reporting on Russia, but maintained that the administration did nothing improper. “When informed by the FBI that [the Russia-related reporting] was false, we told reporters who else they should contact to corroborate the FBI’s version of the story,” he said.
The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of U.S. spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous.
The effort also involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. A spokesman for Nunes said that he had already begun speaking to reporters to challenge the story and that, “at the request of a White House communications aide, Chairman Nunes then spoke to an additional reporter and delivered the same message.”
Unlike the others, Nunes spoke on the record and was subsequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
In an interview, Burr acknowledged that he “had conversations about” Russia-related news reports with the White House and engaged with news organizations to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged “repeated” or “constant” contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives. . .
Video at the link, and more to the story.
White House Interference with Justice Department Investigations, Part II: The “Reince, What Are You Doing?” Edition
Jane Chong continues her Lawfare posts on the issue (see previous post on this blog):
For the second time this week, we have to analyze the propriety of communications between the White House and elements of the Justice Department. The messiness of the allegations pretty neatly sums up why such communications are, as a matter of policy convention, so restricted to begin with.
According to some anonymous senior White House officials, President Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus asked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and possibly Director Jim Comey, to publicly refute the New York Times’ report of frequent communications between senior members of Trump’s campaign and Russian agents in the lead-up to the 2016 election. But the administration is hitting back: Sean Spicer and yet another anonymous official say that Priebus made the request only after McCabe commented to Priebus that the Times‘ story on the matter contained inaccuracies. The FBI hasn’t commented on or disputed the White House’s version of events—but that can’t be interpreted to signify anything, as the silence is in line with its general stance of saying as little as possible (for which there is no self-preservation exception).
For analytical clarity, there are a few issues here we should separate. One is whether Priebus, in his capacity as chief of staff, should be talking to McCabe about an investigation or case at all—and if so, under what circumstances. The second issue is the substance of Priebus’s alleged request. There’s a difference between trying to influence a decision about the trajectory of an investigation or case (obviously improper, and the primary thing the Justice Department’s 2009 guidance seeks to prevent) and, on the other hand, so fundamentally misunderstanding how the Justice Department works that you try to influence what the FBI or another agency communicates to the public about the status of an investigation.
As to the first issue, as I explained in this post a few days ago, the variation of the Justice Department policy presently in force (to the best of our knowledge), outlined in a memo issued by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, is primarily geared toward ensuring that legal decisions regarding investigations and cases are insulated from political influence. That said, the policy governs “all communications” between the White House and Justice Department, generally requiring that they start between a select pool of people, which widens as needed to include designated subordinates. So the policy includes the alleged communication between McCabe and Priebus on the Russia investigation. (There is an exception for national security communications involving certain people, but that exception doesn’t apply here.) This is true notwithstanding some of the more nonsensical assertions being made, such as White House spokesman Michael Short’s insistence that “there was no discussion of any investigation—just the inaccuracy of the NYT story.” Discussing the accuracy of media coverage on a specific investigation obviously entails revealing information about the investigation.
We don’t have a lot of information about the substance of the alleged interaction between McCabe and Priebus, and more importantly, we don’t know what preceded it. For example, if McCabe did comment on the accuracy of the Times story, did he do so with any prior Bureau and Department authorization? Is Priebus a “designate[d] subordinate” who has been instructed by the initial White House communicant to carry on contact with the Department? However doubtful it may seem that the alleged interaction was properly provided for, these are relevant questions if we’re really interested in whether a policy violation happened here.
On the second issue, the substance of the alleged communication, Priebus’s statements are a little different from the kind of improper influence explicitly contemplated in the memo—that is, an attempt to influence internal Department decision-making. This is more an attempt to use the Department for inappropriate public-facing ends. It amounts to not just misunderstanding the FBI and Justice Department’s mission but also underestimating the apparatus the Department has in place to avoid inappropriate media entanglement.
The FBI in particular and the Justice Department in general have all sorts of internal guidance in place about disclosing information or making statements to the press regarding investigations and cases, from the FBI Ethics and Integrity Program Policy Guide to the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual. These guidelines aren’t just about ensuring minimalist disclosures to the public on as as-needed basis; they are rights-protective, prejudice-preclusive provisions designed to ensure that the proper people are signing off on such disclosures.
For anyone who is wondering, as an ethical matter, whether what Priebus did is wrong, and whether it’s time for the White House or Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take a strong public stand on these sorts of alleged communications, I encourage you to move away from the four corners of Holder’s memo and to consult the 1978 speech that Jimmy Carter’s attorney general, Griffin Bell, made when promising an independent Justice Department post-Watergate. It’s not an obsolete document; the language of that speech has remained extremely influential over time and its prints are all over Holder’s policy guidance.
Several parts of that speech stick out to me here.
First, at one point in that speech, Bell says, “it is improper for any Member of Congress, any member of the White House staff, or anyone else, to attempt to influence anyone in the Justice Department with respect to a particular litigation decision, except by legal argument or the provision of relevant facts.” Again, . . .
Jane Chong writes at Lawfare:
Last Saturday, Harry Siegel of the New York Daily News reported that shortly after President Trump signed his immigration executive order, Stephen Miller called the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Robert Capers, to instruct him on how to defend the order in court.
The alleged contact prompted Matthew Miller, former Department of Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder, to ask on Twitter:
This sort of contact is prohibited under a memo from Holder that is still in force. Is Sessions going to allow this kind of WH meddling? https://t.co/BQy5M98EBN
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) February 19, 2017
The issue of Justice Department independence is one that (Matthew) Miller also raised last month prior to Sessions’s confirmation. “This is the biggest question Jeff Sessions has to answer,” Miller told Politico, in a story detailing longstanding internal policies designed to shield the Department from political pressures. “Attorneys general have always established it’s not appropriate for the White House to influence prosecutorial or investigative decisions. But there’s no law or regulation. If they want to change it, they can change it.”
So is Miller right? Given the alleged conduct of Trump’s political aide, must Sessions do something about the guidelines presently in force?
Not necessarily. Miller may be jumping the gun a bit, given the language of the memo establishing the Justice Department policy in question and given how little we know about the alleged Miller-Capers communication.
Let’s back up and acknowledge the historical context. After Watergate, Jimmy Carter campaigned on the promise to establish “as far as constitutionally possible, an independent Department of Justice,” and in 1978 his attorney general, Griffin Bell, sought to make good on that pledge by instituting procedures to insulate the Justice Department from political pressures. But what became the customary rules governing interaction between the White House and Justice were relaxed most recently under the George W. Bush administration, in a set of episodes the administration came to regret. As recounted by Politico in January, Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft, expanded the number of White House officials permitted to contact the Justice Department on non-national security members from four to 417; his second attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, further increased the number to 895 (according to findings by Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney). These changes ended in scandal: among other things, under Gonzalez, seven U.S. attorney generals were abruptly fired in 2006 for political reasons that, according to a subsequent report by the Justice Department Inspector General, “raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecution decisions.” Michael Mukasey reinstituted more traditional guidelines in 2007, and Eric Holder replaced them with his own substantively similar variant in 2009.
As (Matthew) Miller predicted, particularly given the loose rein apparently enjoyed by political aides in the current White House, the question of appropriate contact between the White House and Justice Department is likely to become a major one. But the memo is loosely enough worded that it is highly doubtful that episodes like (Stephen) Miller’s alleged interference would prompt Sessions to take the conspicuous, politically fraught step of simply revoking the Department policy—that is, without replacing it with something similar, as Holder and past attorney generals have done.
The 2009 memorandum Miller refers to was issued by then-Attorney General Holder after consultation with White House counsel and sets forth guidelines restricting communications between the Justice Department and the White House to ensure that the Department’s legal judgments are “impartial and insulated from political influence” and that its “investigatory and prosecutorial powers be exercised free from partisan consideration.”
The heart of the memo isa set of prescriptions limiting the Justice Department’s communications with the White House and Congress regarding pending or potential criminal or civil investigations or cases. The Department will advise the President on such investigations or cases “when—but only when—it is . . .