Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument

The Washington Post reports: A uranium company launched a concerted lobbying campaign to scale back Bears Ears National Monument, saying such action would give it easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans have said repeatedly that questions of mining or drilling played no role in President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was cutting the site by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent. Trump also signed a proclamation nearly halving the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is also in southern Utah and has significant coal deposits.

“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters Tuesday. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”

But the nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits directly next to the boundaries that President Barack Obama designated a year ago when he established Bears Ears. The documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urged the Trump administration to limit the monument to the smallest size needed to protect key objects and areas, such as archeological sites, to make it easier to access the radioactive ore. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s tax plan ‘is at every turn carefully engineered to deliver a kiss to the donor class’

The New York Times reports: The tax plan has been marketed by President Trump and Republican leaders as a straightforward if enormous rebate for the masses, a $1.5 trillion package of cuts to spur hiring and economic growth. But as the bill has been rushed through Congress with scant debate, its far broader ramifications have come into focus, revealing a catchall legislative creation that could reshape major areas of American life, from education to health care.

Some of this re-engineering is straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when people in penthouses get relief, the benefits flow down to basement tenements.

Some measures are barely connected to the realm of taxation, such as the lifting of a 1954 ban on political activism by churches and the conferring of a new legal right for fetuses in the House bill — both on the wish list of the evangelical right.

With a potentially far-reaching dimension, elements in both the House and Senate bills could constrain the ability of states and local governments to levy their own taxes, pressuring them to limit spending on health care, education, public transportation and social services. In their longstanding battle to shrink government, Republicans have found in the tax bill a vehicle to broaden the fight beyond Washington.

The result is a behemoth piece of legislation that could widen American economic inequality while diminishing the power of local communities to marshal relief for vulnerable people — especially in high-tax states like California and New York, which, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic.

All of this is taking shape at such extraordinary velocity, absent the usual analyses and hearings, that even the most savvy Washington lobbyist cannot be fully certain of the implications.

Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress — stymied in their efforts to repeal Obamacare, and short of legislative achievements — have signaled absolute resolve to get a tax bill passed by the end of the year. As the sense has taken hold that Washington is now a trading floor where any deal is worth entertaining so long as it brings votes, interest groups have fixed on the tax bill as a unique opportunity to further their agendas.

“There’s a Christmas-tree aspect to the bill,” said C. Eugene Steuerle, a Treasury official during the Reagan administration and now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As an example, he cited the provisions in the House bill designed to appeal to the religious right.

“People want to add certain things, and if they don’t cost a lot, it’s a way to buy in agreement,” Mr. Steuerle said.

Economists and tax experts are overwhelmingly skeptical that the bills in the House and Senate can generate meaningful job growth and economic expansion. Many view the legislation not as a product of genuine deliberation, but as a transfer of wealth to corporations and affluent individuals — both generous purveyors of campaign contributions. By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office.

“When you put all these pieces together, what you’re left with is we are squandering a giant sum of money,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, a former chief of staff at the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation who teaches law at the University of Southern California. “It’s not aimed at growth. It is not aimed at the middle class. It is at every turn carefully engineered to deliver a kiss to the donor class.”

In a recent University of Chicago survey of 38 prominent economists across the ideological spectrum, only one said the proposed tax cuts would yield substantial economic growth. Unanimously, the economists said the tax cuts would add to the long-term federal debt burden, now estimated at more than $20 trillion. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn’s promotion of nuclear-plant project went deep into the White House

The Wall Street Journal reports: Private-sector backers of a controversial Middle East nuclear-power plan worked with former national security adviser Mike Flynn to promote it inside the White House, to the point of sending him a draft memo for the president to sign authorizing the project.

At issue was a proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors, billed by its backers as a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East.” Before joining the White House, Mr. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, had advised some of the U.S. companies involved in the plan in his capacity as a consultant.

Mr. Flynn’s efforts to promote the plan included telling a National Security Council staffer to create an official directive detailing the plan for President Donald Trump to sign, according to people familiar with the matter. He also brought the project to the attention of a key administration ally, these people say. The plan was projected to generate $250 billion in revenue for U.S. companies, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Details of Mr. Flynn’s promotion of the project inside the White House first became public in September. Evidence now is surfacing about how far it progressed inside the administration, and how Mr. Flynn’s former staffer continued to promote it after Mr. Flynn left office in February. [Continue reading…]

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An arrest in France freaks out the Kremlin kleptocracy

Anna Nemtsova reports: He was one of Russia’s untouchables: the country’s 21st richest man, a senator in the upper chamber of parliament. He is part of the circle of businessmen known for their loyalty to President Vladimir Putin and the benefits they’ve reaped as a result, a billionaire member of Putin’s United Russia party who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in important state projects to curry favor.

Such “pocket oligarchs” earn official status, even diplomatic immunity when they travel. And Suleiman Kerimov, 51, reportedly has a Russian diplomatic passport. But according to the Russian press, when he landed in France earlier this week he was on a private trip, and didn’t bring it.

Then, almost as soon he got off the plane in Nice, he got arrested for alleged tax evasion and money laundering. And the vision of Kerimov behind bars splashed in the Russian press shocked the country’s elite. Many of them, like Kerimov, have gotten used to keeping their fortunes, their luxury properties, their yachts, and indeed their families abroad.

Before this week they thought of the French Riviera, especially, as a safe haven where resorts like Cap d’Antibes, St. Jean-Cap Ferrat, and Beaulieu-sur-Mer are home to whole colonies of ultra-rich Russians. [Continue reading…]

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Mike Flynn business partner Bijan Kian now subject of Mueller probe

NBC News reports: A former business associate of Michael Flynn has become a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for his role in the failure of Flynn’s former lobbying firm to disclose its work on behalf of foreign governments, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

Federal investigators are zeroing in on Bijan Kian, an Iranian-American who was a partner at the now-dissolved Flynn Intel Group, and have questioned multiple witnesses in recent weeks about his lobbying work on behalf of Turkey. The grand jury convened for the investigation will soon have a chance to question some of those witnesses, the sources say.

Mueller recently indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates simultaneously. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty. Both Flynn’s and Manafort’s lobbying firms have come under investigation for failing to disclose lobbying work on behalf of foreign governments. [Continue reading…]

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How today’s despots and kleptocrats hide their stolen wealth

Alex Cooley and Jason Sharman write: On Oct. 27, the vice president and heir apparent to the tiny oil-rich West African state of Equatorial Guinea was convicted in a Paris court of money laundering and embezzlement. At stake is Vice President Teodorin Obaing’s $200 million Paris mansion, a 220-foot yacht and a fleet of luxury cars, which according to the French authorities represent the proceeds of corruption from his country’s oil wealth. A week later, a massive data-dump from the offshore firm Appleby, the “Paradise Papers,” exposed the financial dealings of thousands of firms and individuals in small island tax havens from the Caribbean to the South Pacific.

Together, the Obiang case and the Paradise Papers seem to give us a new version of two standard stories. In the first, a strongman from an endemically corrupt Third World state steals from his already impoverished citizens to fund conspicuous consumption, while in the second, secretive tax havens hide the dubious funds of the rich and (in)famous. Developing countries like Equatorial Guinea are stigmatized by their poor performance in international rankings such as Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index, while the tax havens are increasingly taking flak from richer countries and international organizations. The international watchdogs and scholarly writings on the subject tend to suggest that corruption is a national, bordered phenomenon best assessed and countered on a state-by-state basis.

This is wrong. In our article “Transition Corruption and the Globalized Individual,” we argue that the conventional understanding of grand corruption is badly flawed and complacent. The real fight is against cross-border flows of tainted money and Western financial centers, which launder corrupt money and help people spend it. Instead of drawing a dichotomy between corrupt and clean countries, we should look at the role of transnational networks, which create a symbiotic relationship between the source countries of grand corruption and the destination host or haven countries that receive the loot. Kleptocracy is not just an initial act of theft, but also the subsequent ability of these corrupt leaders to legally reside in other countries where their wealth and property will be protected, and where they can enjoy their mansions and conspicuous consumption in cities such as London, Paris, New York and Geneva. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is part of the Saudi story

Anne Applebaum writes: There are countries in which you are accused of an act of corruption and then you are arrested. And then there are countries in which someone decides to arrest you and only then are you called corrupt.

Saudi Arabia belongs to that second category. Last week, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, used the excuse of “corruption” to arrest several dozen people, including close members of his family, and to lock them up in the posh confines of the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh.

Nobody took the charges at face value. “Corruption” — theft from the state — is not easily defined in Saudi Arabia, a place where the ruling family is the state, and vice versa.

Instead, those who know the country have argued that these arrests are part of a major political transition, an assault on the country’s sclerotic, traditional power structure. The crown prince appears to be “deliberately dismantling the traditional governance system in Saudi Arabia,” wrote The Post’s David Ignatius. The arrests were preceded by other changes: Talk of social modernization, for example — one of the world’s most misogynistic societies will soon allow women to drive — as well as of the diversification of an economy almost entirely dependent on oil.

But if those are the goals, these arrests also represent another setback for U.S. leadership in the era of President Trump, and a major blow to the prestige of a very different model of modernization and political transition. Most European countries were once monarchies like Saudi Arabia, but they handed over power to parliaments. The United States once denied women many rights, but it slowly enfranchised them. That Western model — to expand rights and freedom, to establish the rule of law and independent courts, to pass sovereignty from an aristocracy to a broader group of citizens — was long promoted by Americans as a matter of course. During what is remembered as the “Third Wave” of democratization, from the 1970s to the 1990s, dozens of countries in Latin America, Asia and central Europe sought to emulate this tradition and carry out this kind of reform.

Now that model is in retreat. Instead of following a Western model of modernization and reform, the crown prince has taken the path of China and Russia, where “political transition” means that power is retained by a tiny, very wealthy elite. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller probing possible secret lucrative deal between Turks and Flynn during presidential transition

NBC News reports: Federal investigators are examining whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with senior Turkish officials just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration about a potential quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to carry out directives from Ankara secretly while in the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.

Mueller is specifically examining whether the deal, if successful, would have led to millions of dollars in secret payments to Flynn, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Criticized for ship holdings, Commerce Secretary Ross owns more than previously known and the deals continue

APM Reports reports: Six years ago, Wilbur Ross thought investing in ships would create valuable financial assets. Today, they’ve become risky political liabilities.

One shipping company is in a partnership with Russia, and another that the U.S. Commerce secretary partially owned is tied to China’s largest sovereign wealth fund. His chief of staff served on both boards. Now U.S. senators are calling for an investigation, and ethics experts demand he divest to prevent his policy decisions from being influenced by his business interests.

Ross won’t say how many ships he owns, and government disclosure laws give him the choice to keep the information secret.

An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company — Navigator Holdings Ltd. — Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. The value of those ships stands to grow as Ross negotiates trade deals on behalf of the U.S. and advises on U.S. infrastructure policy. And one fund linked to Ross was still buying and selling ships after Ross was confirmed as Commerce secretary. [Continue reading…]

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The case of Wilbur Ross’ phantom $2 billion

Forbes reports: Fresh off a tour through Thailand, Laos and China, United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. picked up the phone on a Sunday afternoon in October to discuss something deeply personal: how much money he has. A year earlier, Forbes had listed his net worth at $2.9 billion on The Forbes 400, a number Ross claimed was far too low: He maintained he was closer to $3.7 billion. Now, after examining the financial-disclosure forms he filed after his nomination to President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, which showed less than $700 million in assets, Forbes was intent on removing him entirely.

Ross protested, citing trusts for his family that he said he did not have to disclose in federal filings. “You’re apparently not counting those, which are more than $2 billion,” he said. When asked for documentation, the 79-year-old demurred, citing “privacy issues.” Told that Forbes nonetheless planned to remove him from the list for the first time in 13 years, he responded: “As long as you explain that the reason is that assets were put into trust, I’m fine with that.” And when did he make the transfer that allowed him to not disclose over $2 billion? “Between the election and the nomination.”

So began the mystery of Wilbur Ross’ missing $2 billion. And after one month of digging, Forbes is confident it has found the answer: That money never existed. It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004. In addition to just padding his ego, Ross’ machinations helped bolster his standing in a way that translated into business opportunities. And based on our interviews with ten former employees at Ross’ private equity firm, WL Ross & Co., who all confirmed parts of the same story line, his penchant for misleading extended to colleagues and investors, resulting in millions of dollars in fines, tens of millions refunded to backers and numerous lawsuits. Additionally, according to six U.S. senators, Ross failed to initially mention 19 suits in response to a questionnaire during his confirmation process. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he will “probably not” maintain his stake in a shipping firm that does business with a Russian company with ties to the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an oligarch under U.S. sanctions.

“I’ve been actually selling it anyway, but that isn’t because of this,” Ross said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Ross said in a government ethics disclosure filed after his nomination that he held an investment worth as much as $10 million in shipping company Navigator Holdings. But news organizations including the New York Times alleged over the weekend he did not disclose that the company’s clients include a Russian energy company called Sibur whose owners include Putin’s son-in-law and the oligarch, who is close to the Kremlin and has been sanctioned by the U.S. government. [Continue reading…]

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‘Fat Leonard’ probe expands to ensnare more than 60 U.S. Navy admirals suspected of corruption

The Washington Post reports: The “Fat Leonard” corruption investigation has expanded to include more than 60 admirals and hundreds of other U.S. Navy officers under scrutiny for their contacts with a defense contractor in Asia who systematically bribed sailors with sex, liquor and other temptations, according to the Navy.

Most of the admirals are suspected of attending extravagant feasts at Asia’s best restaurants paid for by Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based maritime tycoon who made an illicit fortune supplying Navy vessels in ports from Vladivostok, Russia to Brisbane, Australia. Francis also was renowned for hosting alcohol-soaked, after-dinner parties, which often featured imported prostitutes and sometimes lasted for days, according to federal court records.

The 350-pound Francis, also known in Navy circles as “Leonard the Legend” for his wild-side lifestyle, spent decades cultivating relationships with officers, many of whom developed a blind spot to his fraudulent ways. Even while he and his firm were being targeted by Navy criminal investigators, he received VIP invitations to ceremonies in Annapolis and Pearl Harbor, where he hobnobbed with four-star admirals, according to photographs obtained by The Washington Post.

The Justice Department has filed criminal charges against 28 people, including two admirals, since Francis was arrested in an international sting operation four years ago. Those cases comprise the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, but they represent a fraction of a much larger list of Navy officials under investigation but whose names have been mostly kept secret.

In response to queries from The Post, the Navy recently confirmed that it has been reviewing the conduct of 440 other active-duty and retired personnel — including 60 current and former admirals — for possible violations of military law or federal ethics rules in their dealings with Francis and his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

That is double the number of admirals whom Navy officials said were under investigation last year (The Navy has about 210 admirals on active duty). [Continue reading…]

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After a tax crackdown, Apple found a new shelter for its profits

The New York Times reports: Tim Cook was angry.

It was May 2013, and Mr. Cook, the chief executive of Apple, appeared before a United States Senate investigative subcommittee. After a lengthy inquiry, it found that the company had avoided tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits into Irish subsidiaries that the panel’s chairman called “ghost companies.”

“We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” Mr. Cook declared at the hearing. “We don’t depend on tax gimmicks,” he went on. “We don’t stash money on some Caribbean island.”

True enough. The island Apple would soon rely on was in the English Channel.

Five months after Mr. Cook’s testimony, Irish officials began to crack down on the tax structure Apple had exploited. So the iPhone maker went hunting for another place to park its profits, newly leaked records show. With help from law firms that specialize in offshore tax shelters, the company canvassed multiple jurisdictions before settling on the small island of Jersey, which typically does not tax corporate income.

Apple has accumulated more than $128 billion in profits offshore, and probably much more, that is untaxed by the United States and hardly touched by any other country. Nearly all of that was generated over the past decade.

The previously undisclosed story of Apple’s search for a new island tax haven and its use of Jersey is among the revelations emerging from a cache of secret corporate records from Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm that caters to businesses and the wealthy elite. [Continue reading…]

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Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world elite’s hidden wealth

The Guardian reports: The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed this week in a major new investigation into Britain’s offshore empires.

The details come from a leak of 13.4m files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive – and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth.

The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with partners including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times.

The project has been called the Paradise Papers. It reveals:

[Continue reading…]

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Commerce secretary’s offshore ties to Putin ‘cronies’

The New York Times reports: After becoming commerce secretary, Wilbur L. Ross Jr. retained investments in a shipping firm he once controlled that has significant business ties to a Russian oligarch subject to American sanctions and President Vladimir V. Putin’s son-in-law, according to newly disclosed documents.

The shipper, Navigator Holdings, earns millions of dollars a year transporting gas for one of its top clients, a giant Russian energy company called Sibur, whose owners include the oligarch and Mr. Putin’s family member. Despite selling off numerous other holdings to join the Trump administration and spearhead its “America first” trade policy, Mr. Ross kept an investment in Navigator, which increased its business dealings with Sibur even as the West sought to punish Russia’s energy sector over Mr. Putin’s incursions into Ukraine.

Partnerships used by Mr. Ross, whose private equity firm has long been the biggest shareholder in Navigator, have a 31 percent stake in the company. Though his personal share of that stake was reduced as he took office in February, he retained an investment in the partnerships valued between $2 million and $10 million, and stood to earn a higher share of profits as general partner, according to his government ethics disclosure and securities filings.

Mr. Ross’s stake in Navigator has been held by a chain of companies in the Cayman Islands, one of several tax havens where much of his wealth, estimated at more than $2 billion, has been tied to similar investment vehicles. Details of these arrangements surfaced in a cache of leaked files from Appleby, one of the world’s largest offshore law firms, which administered some 50 companies and partnerships in the Caymans and elsewhere connected to Mr. Ross. [Continue reading…]

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Kremlin cash behind billionaire’s Twitter and Facebook investments

The New York Times reports: In fall 2010, the Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner took the stage for a Q. and A. at a technology conference in San Francisco. Mr. Milner, whose holdings have included major stakes in Facebook and Twitter, is known for expounding on everything from the future of social media to the frontiers of space travel. But when someone asked a question that had swirled around his Silicon Valley ascent — who were his investors? — he did not answer, turning repeatedly to the moderator with a look of incomprehension.

Now, leaked documents examined by The New York Times offer a partial answer: Behind Mr. Milner’s investments in Facebook and Twitter were hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kremlin.

Obscured by a maze of offshore shell companies, the Twitter investment was backed by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals.

And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents. They include a cache of records from the Bermuda law firm Appleby that were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and reviewed by The Times in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Ultimately, Mr. Milner’s companies came to own more than 8 percent of Facebook and 5 percent of Twitter, helping earn him a place on various lists of the world’s most powerful business people. His companies sold those holdings several years ago, but he retains investments in several other large technology companies and continues to make new deals. Among Mr. Milner’s current investments is a real estate venture founded and partly owned by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser. [Continue reading…]

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The wealthy men in Trump’s inner circle with links to tax havens

The Guardian reports: On the election trail in 2016, Donald Trump promised tax reforms to tempt major US companies back onshore and “bring back trillions of dollars from American businesses that is now parked overseas”.

As the first anniversary of his election victory looms this week, Trump and fellow Republicans are trying to drive those tax reforms through Congress.

On 1 November, Trump reiterated his commitment.

“Finally, our plan will bring back trillions of dollars from offshore … that will come pouring back into our country that will be put to work and will be spent by our companies that could never get the money back for many years. Bring the money back. We’re rebuilding America.”

But Trump is surrounded by wealthy individuals who have legally either sheltered their own investments or presided over policies to keep company profits or clients’ funds out of reach in tax havens. [Continue reading…]

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Lindsey Graham’s ‘religious war’

Peter Beinart writes: On Tuesday night, hours after the terrorist attack in New York City, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham went on Fox News to express his gratitude that, at times like these, Donald Trump is president. “The one thing I like about President Trump, he understands that we’re in a religious war,” Graham declared. “Here’s what I like about President Trump,” he added later, “the gloves are off.” Trump, Graham explained, “is right to make sure when somebody comes into the country from a place where radical Islam [flourishes] … we’re going to ask extra hard questions.” And Trump is—you guessed it—“right to slow down who comes into this country.” When the Fox anchor turned to Robert Mueller’s indictment of two former Trump campaign officials, Graham’s enthusiasm didn’t flag. “If I’m the Trump team,” Graham declared, “I’d rest pretty good tonight.”

Graham’s comments illustrate one of the most fascinating dynamics of the Trump era: Trump exposes the character of the politicians around him. As a political force, anti-Trump conservatism is dead. That means GOP members of Congress who consider Trump an ignorant, narcissistic, lying, authoritarian bully (and according to Bob Corker, many do) face a choice between their principles and their jobs. Corker and Jeff Flake have chosen the former. Most of their colleagues have chosen the latter. But none has done so as loudly as Lindsey Graham. [Continue reading…]

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Trump leads the most corrupt administration in U.S. history

Newsweek reports: He’d promised to build the wall. To make America great again. To lock her up. Now, in the last weeks of his campaign for president, Donald J. Trump needed one more stirring slogan. And since he was badly trailing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, it would have to be a marketing marvel worthy of Mad Men’s Don Draper, one that encapsulated the vague yet compelling promise of his candidacy—its worship of American ideals and its total break from them.

On October 17, 2016, the Trump-Pence campaign released a five-point plan for ethics reform that featured lobbying restrictions that would insulate Trump and his administration from corporate and interests. The plan was called “drain the swamp.

Trump tried out the phrase that day at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He used it the next day at a rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We’re going to end the government corruption,” Trump vowed, “and we’re going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” He then recited a litany of accusations regarding Clinton and her use of a private email server, calling her “the most corrupt person to ever run for the presidency.”

“Build the wall” had been the raw opening cry of the Trump campaign. “Make America great again” was its chorus. “Drain the swamp” was its closing number. But while talk of a border wall plainly thrilled Trump, he was apparently never too worked up about the festering bog that was the nation’s capital. He said as much in an October 26 rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, in one of his unsettling bouts of honesty: “I said that about a week ago, and I didn’t like it that much, didn’t sound that great. And the whole world picked it up.… Funny how things like that happen.… So ‘drain the swamp,’ I didn’t like it. Now, I love it, right?”

“Drain the swamp” fit perfectly with Trump’s constant complaints about the “rigged system,” thereby excusing what some said was going to be a historic defeat. As the campaign concluded, Trump turned himself into a martyr for the cause of American democracy, waging a principled but doomed campaign.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a third Obama term. Winning endowed the things Trump said during the campaign with an import they’d previously lacked. He was, back then, a hopeless renegade, troubling but not threatening. Then, the returns from Florida and Wisconsin came in on the evening of November 8. And while many understood that his “rigged system” was just an excuse, “drain the swamp” sure sounded like a promise.

So as the presidential inauguration approached, anticipation bubbled through the sulfurous nexus of Capitol Hill politicians, special interest groups and their K Street lobbyists, the media, the establishment and just about everyone else who had dismissed Trump and his slogans as a publicity stunt. There was now a question, rather urgently in need of an answer: Was he serious about all that “swamp” stuff?

Not really, revealed former House Speaker and loyal Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, admitting to NPR on December 21 that “drain the swamp” was never a genuine promise. “I’m told he now just disclaims that,” Gingrich said a month before Trump was to assume the Oval Office. “He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”

Someone from Trump Tower must have placed an angry call, because the former speaker soon tweeted that he’d overstated the case. But that didn’t kill the story. That same day, Politico wondered if “drain the swamp” would be Trump’s “first broken promise.” It cited the access-peddling lobbying firm of Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey R. Lewandowski, as well as the consulting firm with troubling foreign ties run by his incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. “Trump and his allies have engaged in some of the same practices they accused Hillary Clinton of exploiting and vowed to change,” Politico wrote.

Now, a year after the election—and more than a year after Trump first made that pledge to the American people—many observers believe the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threatens to swallow the entire Trump administration. The number of White House officials currently facing questions, lawsuits or investigation is astonishing: Trump, being sued for violating the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; Paul J. Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, indicted on money laundering charges in late October; Flynn, for undisclosed lobbying work done on behalf of the Turkish government; son-in-law and consigliere Jared Kushner, for failing to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real-estate company; and at least six Cabinet heads being investigated for or asked about exorbitant travel expenses, security details or business dealings. [Continue reading…]

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