Ultimate Resource On Donald J. Trump
Federal Judge Rejects Trump Request To Block Disclosure Of Records To Jan. 6 Committee. Ultimate Resource On Donald J. Trump
Judge cites public interest in studying assault on Capitol.
A federal judge said records from the Trump White House can be turned over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, rejecting a request by former President Donald Trump to block their disclosure.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said late Tuesday that Congress should have access to the records.
“The public interest lies in permitting—not enjoining—the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again,” she ruled.
Mr. Trump filed suit last month in a bid to stop the National Archives from turning over records from his time in office to Capitol Hill investigators. He argued lawmakers’ requests were improper and covered materials protected by executive privilege.
The judge, an Obama appointee, said Mr. Trump was unlikely to succeed on those arguments and denied his request for a preliminary injunction to block disclosure to the House panel. The National Archives is scheduled to give the records to the committee on Friday.
The former president has signaled in court papers that he would immediately appeal any adverse ruling.
Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, said on Twitter Tuesday night, “The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts. Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through.”
The House select committee, which is investigating the causes and circumstances of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, has sought a variety of White House records related to the day’s events. They include communications about Mr. Trump’s speech to supporters before they converged on the Capitol, as well as the response within the White House when violence began to unfold.
The committee also asked the National Archives for records related to Mr. Trump’s unsuccessful and unfounded attempts to stop the certification of the 2020 election.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), the House committee’s chairman, called Mr. Trump’s lawsuit “little more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation.”
“This decision affirms the importance of the Select Committee’s work to get answers for the American people, recommend changes to the law to strengthen our democracy, and help ensure nothing like the attack of January 6th ever happens again,” he said.
Mr. Trump argued in court papers that the committee was overstepping Congress’s powers to investigate and said some of the records being sought involved confidential deliberations and decision-making that should be protected from disclosure.
President Biden has declined to assert executive privilege on Mr. Trump’s behalf, and Judge Chutkan said an incumbent president’s views outweigh those of a former one.
The judge said Mr. Trump appeared to believe that his executive power exists in perpetuity. “But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” she wrote. “He retains the right to assert that his records are privileged, but the incumbent President is not constitutionally obliged to honor that assertion.”
Judge Chutkan also said that while some of the committee’s record requests were broad, “so too is Congress’ power to obtain information.”
The committee has sent subpoenas to others in Mr. Trump’s orbit, seeking depositions and records. On Tuesday, it sent subpoenas to 10 former Trump administration officials, including former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and senior adviser Stephen Miller. A day earlier, it sent subpoenas to six other campaign officials and close allies of the former president.
The Justice Department is still considering whether to charge former Trump strategist Steve Bannon with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena sent by the Jan. 6 committee, nearly three weeks after the House referred the matter for possible prosecution.
Mr. Bannon’s lawyer has argued he can’t respond to the committee’s subpoena because of executive privilege asserted by Mr. Trump.
Trump’s 2024 Hopes Just Crashed Into The 14th Amendment
A provision of the Constitution designed to bar Confederate leaders from office may keep Trump from running again.
Donald Trump might already be ineligible to serve as president of the United States in the future. That’s true even without an impeachment process that ends with a formal ban from future public office.
The relevant constitutional provision is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War and mentioned in the article of impeachment proposed before the House today. The provision bars a person from holding any office “under the United States” if the person has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the government or “given aid to the enemies” of the U.S.
Does this provision to apply to Trump? The first part certainly does: Trump took an oath to uphold the Constitution when he became president.
The trickier question is the second part: Has Trump’s conduct amounted to insurrection? You can be sure that, if Trump runs for office in the future, someone will go to court charging that he is ineligible to become president because of his conduct leading up to, on and following Jan. 6, 2021. Because this is a constitutional question, the courts will have to adjudicate it.
The first question is whether the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection against the government of the United States. In vernacular terms, it certainly was. Republicans like Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell called it an insurrection right off the bat. The article of impeachment speaks of insurrection. But what we need is the legal definition under the Constitution, not the usage of politicians in the heat of the moment.
The Constitution doesn’t define insurrection. Neither does the Insurrection Act, the federal statute that you might expect to include a definition. Most dictionary definitions of insurrection call it a violent uprising against the government. Not all of the Jan. 6 participants were violent, of course. But some were.
As for the uprising part, again, not all the rioters wanted to bring down the government. But at least some clearly intended to interfere temporarily with the congressional process for declaring Joe Biden to be president. At least some wanted to use force to compel Congress to declare Trump, not Biden, the president-elect.
That act would have subverted the democratic process. In some sense, at least, it would have amounted to overturning the U.S. government by force.
The upshot is that, at least with regard to the mob itself, it seems possible that a court could conclude that an insurrection was happening on Jan. 6. It isn’t a slam-dunk case; the authors of the 14th Amendment almost certainly had in mind an insurrection much more like the Civil War. But a court would certainly have enough reason to find that Jan. 6 involved an insurrection for it to be worthwhile for us to go on to the next question.
That question is, assuming the march on the Capitol was an insurrection: Did Trump himself engage in insurrection when he spoke to the crowd and encouraged or incited the march? If a court says yes, Trump isn’t eligible to be president again.
It’s worth noticing that the 14th Amendment does not use the word “sedition,” which is often employed to describe verbal acts that organize or plan an insurrection. That absence could be used by Trump or his lawyers to argue that even if the march on the Capitol was an insurrection, and even if Trump verbally helped bring it about, he was not himself “engaged” in insurrection for purposes of the 14th Amendment ban on holding office.
The counterargument would be that insurrection necessarily requires a level of verbal encouragement and planning — and that inciting a crowd to engage in insurrection is every bit as insurrectionary as rebelling oneself. If this is right, then the question becomes whether Trump actually incited insurrection.
Answering this question in a constitutional way will not be simple. If this were a criminal prosecution, the First Amendment would apply, and the relevant test would be the one drawn from the landmark 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio. The case says that the government can’t punish speech advocating force unless the speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action.”
Trump’s Jan. 6 speech is close to the line. On the one hand, circumstances could be read to interpret his words as encouraging the crowd to enter the Capitol forcefully, which was a crime. On the other hand, Trump chose his words very carefully. His direct speech did not call for criminal action in any explicit way.
And it would be difficult to prove that he intended the crowd to breach the Capitol. Thus it’s possible that Trump’s words might not meet the Brandenburg standard, if it requires explicit words or proof of intent — and it may well require both.
Ah, but Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is not a criminal sanction! And because the provision is in the Constitution, it arguably is not limited by the First Amendment. So a court could still conclude that Trump’s words counted as insurrection for the purposes of the 14th Amendment even if they would not have qualified as incitement under the Brandenburg standard. That means Trump could be barred from holding office for an act that would not get him thrown in jail.
In practice, it’s unlikely that a court would be prepared to disqualify a former president from running for office again. But it’s a close issue — and one the Supreme Court may have to take up if Trump announces a 2024 candidacy.
Trump Asks Appeals Court To Let Him Dodge Rape Accuser Suit
President Donald Trump urged a federal appeals court to rule that he qualifies as a government employee under a law that would let him to dodge a defamation suit by E. Jean Carroll, the New York advice columnist who claims he raped her two decades ago.
Trump late Friday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan to reverse a district judge’s finding from October that presidents aren’t covered by the Westfall Act of 1988, which protects government workers from being personally sued for actions related to their official duties. The U.S. Justice Department filed a separate brief backing Trump’s argument.
Carroll went public in 2019 with her allegation that Trump attacked her in a deserted area of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan. She then sued him for defamation after he said she was lying and accused her of conspiring with Democrats to undermine him. Trump claims his statements denying Carroll’s claim were part of his official duties.
“Presidents plainly are employees of the Government, and Congress plainly intended Presidents to be covered by the Westfall Act — notwithstanding the District Court’s strenuous but strained and unsuccessful effort to show otherwise here,” Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said in the filing.
The case won’t be impacted by Trump’s departure from office next week after losing the November election to President-elect Joe Biden, whose Justice Department will inherit the case. Carroll has been trying to push ahead with the exchange of evidence between the two sides, including deposing Trump under oath and securing a DNA sample from him.
It isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Biden administration will accept Carroll’s novel arguments about the law. The Westfall Act has previously been applied to other presidents in litigation, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, though under different circumstances. But even if the incoming administration believes the law applies to Trump, it may disagree that his specific comments about Carroll were part of his official duties.
“We expect that the new Department of Justice under President Biden will want to take a long, hard look as to whether they agree with Donald Trump that his hateful and defamatory statements about E. Jean Carroll were made within the scope of his employment as President of the United States,” Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s lawyer, said in a statement on Saturday.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan rejected the Justice Department’s argument in October, finding that Trump’s comments about Carroll wouldn’t be protected by the law anyway because they related to an allegation about conduct from before he was elected. On Friday, the government said Kaplan was mistaken.
‘Scope of His Office’
Trump’s disputed comments were an “outgrowth of the President’s public response to allegations challenging his fitness for office,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Dickey said in the filing. “He thus acts within the scope of his office when, in this context, he seeks to defuse personal issues that threaten to impair his ability to achieve his agenda.”
The court will look at several comments by Trump after Carroll’s claims went public, including a statement issued to the media by the White House comparing Carroll’s claims to “false” accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and saying they “diminish the severity of real assault.” Trump later told reporters: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened.”
The appeals court will determine whether the president is an “employee of the government” for purposes of the federal law protecting such workers from litigation. It will also decide whether Trump was acting within the scope of his office when he made allegedly defamatory statements.
If the court allows the U.S. be substituted for Trump as defendant in the suit, the case would be dismissed because the government can’t be sued for defamation.
The case is Carroll v. Trump, 20-cv-07311, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Trump-Branded New York Building Looks To Remove President’s Name
* Trump Palace Residents Have Met To Discuss Taking Down Signs
* Ex-President’s Name On Tower ‘Reduces Its Value,’ Lawyer Says
Donald Trump’s name is emblazoned on buildings across Manhattan, usually spelled out in large gold lettering. Residents at one of those buildings would like to change that.
A group of owners at Trump Palace has met to discuss removing the former president’s name from the hulking condominium tower on the Upper East Side, according to one resident, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The building manager is now looking into the possibility of doing just that, said Michael Schoeman, who lives in the tower.
They wouldn’t be the first to go that route. Trump SoHo, for example, rebranded as the Dominick in 2017. After Trump was elected, a handful of buildings on the Upper West Side took down the large “Trump Place” signs that hung over their entrances. Trump Plaza, a co-op eight blocks south of Trump Palace, has long considered doing the same.
Adam Leitman Bailey, a New York real estate attorney, said he was contacted by residents at Trump Plaza, among others, soon after Trump’s 2016 presidential bid to see about stripping his name from the building.
“I have received calls from every building with Trump on it in the city trying to get it removed,” Bailey said. “Over time in New York, Donald Trump has not been very popular and New York is about money, so having Trump’s name on the building reduces its value.”
A spokesperson for the Trump Organization didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Numerous businesses have been reassessing their association with Trump since the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead and erupted after the former president urged his supporters to converge on Washington.
Over the past two weeks, Trump has been abandoned by lenders including Deutsche Bank AG and Signature Bank, as well as by the PGA of America, which canceled a golf tournament scheduled for next year at a New Jersey course he owns. He’s also been booted off social media, his preferred method of communication with millions of followers.
Now, some unit owners fear that having Trump’s name on their building could harm the value of their investment.
“They don’t want to, by association, be seen as being near a modern-day pariah,” said branding expert Eric Schiffer. “That’s a danger to any economic venture, let alone customers or clients or in this case homeowners or condo owners, seeing their equity being looked at askance by potential buyers.”
That’s just another challenge during an already difficult period for Manhattan property sellers because of the effects of Covid-19. As more and more people move out of the city and into the suburbs, homes are sitting on the market longer.
Lois Miller, 88, has rented a condo in Trump Palace for five years, but said she didn’t realize it was a Trump property until she moved in.
“When I saw it I said, ‘Oh my god,’ I live here?,” Miller said, adding that she’d love for the name to be removed but doubts she’ll have a say since she doesn’t own the apartment. “I’d be very happy if his name wasn’t up there.”
Following the Capitol riots, the city of New York said it planned to cancel contracts with the Trump Organization, claiming his actions ahead of the tumult amounted to criminal activity.
A spokesperson for the Trump Organization at the time called the city’s action “political discrimination,” which it planned to “fight vigorously.”
The Trump Organization manages two ice skating rinks in New York, as well as a carousel in Central Park and a golf course in the Bronx. A petition started in December to have Trump’s name removed from an adopt-a-highway sign on the West Side Highway has so far garnered 1,556 signatures.
But Trump still has many residential and commercial buildings across the city bearing his moniker, including his prized Trump Tower, the Art Deco office building at 40 Wall St. in the Financial District, and Trump World Tower near the United Nations.
Schoeman, the Trump Palace resident who previously lived in Trump Plaza, said he’s not sure what difference it would make if his building succeeds in having the former president’s name removed.
“I really don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish,” Schoeman said. “We’re still going to be paying Trump.”
Trump Opens Office To ‘Carry On’ His Administration’s Agenda
Former President Donald Trump has opened an office to “advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda” of his administration, according to a statement released Monday night.
The ex-president’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, created a new email distribution system via one of his private companies for Trump’s statements because the 2020 campaign’s email infrastructure has been suspended by the vendor it had been using, Campaign Monitor, according to two people familiar with the matter.
A slew of technology platforms excised Trump accounts or subgroups, including those on Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, Twitch and Instagram, after the Jan. 6 riot by pro-Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol.
The statement from the Office of Donald J. Trump was issued less than an hour before House Democrats crossed the U.S. Capitol to deliver an article of impeachment against the former president to the Senate. That sets in motion Trump’s second impeachment trial.
He is accused of inciting the mob that broke into the Capitol as Congress was about to certify the results of the election he lost to Joe Biden.
One of Parscale’s companies, Nucleus, built an email distribution system meant to circumvent outside vendors. Aides want to prevent media companies from silencing or “canceling” Trump in the future, one of the people said.
The letterhead on the statement indicated that the office will operate out of Palm Beach, where Trump moved after leaving the White House last week.
According to the statement, the “office will be responsible for managing President Trump’s correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities to advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda of the Trump administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism.”
Later, in a statement released by the Save America leadership political action committee he formed after the election, Trump endorsed his former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for governor of Arkansas. She announced that she was running earlier Monday.
Also on Monday, a Trump adviser said he had no plans to break from the Republican Party to pursue a third party.
Pentagon To Purge 42 Boards After Last-Minute Trump Appointments
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a full review of at least 42 Pentagon advisory boards and committees over concern about a flurry of last-minute appointments of key loyalists in the waning days of the Trump administration.
“The frenetic activity that occurred to the composition of so many boards in just the period of November to January deeply concerned the secretary and certainly helped drive him to this decision,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.
Hundreds of board members will be asked to resign or be fired in the coming weeks. Those appointed by the secretary of defense will have to step down by Feb. 16, according to a directive from Austin.
Those include picks made in President Donald Trump’s final days in office by his acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller — including loyalists such as former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Board members typically are volunteers, but the appointments can offer both prestige and access to key officials.
Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the full review of the various advisory boards — set to take until at least June — was unprecedented and would give Austin the opportunity to review whether all of them are needed or if some have overlapping authorities. Among the panels is the well-known Defense Science Board.
The decision to review all members, except those appointed by Congress, gives the Biden administration a rebuttal to criticism that it chose to purge solely Trump appointees.
Trump Family Mansion Next To Mar-A-Lago On Sale For $49 Million
A beachfront mansion across the street from Mar-a-Lago that’s owned by a company linked to former President Donald Trump is on the market for $49 million.
The eight-bedroom “Beachouse” is “a well known and very important oceanfront estate,” broker Lawrence Moens said in a full-page ad in Sunday’s Palm Beach Daily News. The “exclusive” listing doesn’t mention Trump, but says the house comes with a Mar-A-Lago club membership.
Moens and a representative of the Trump Organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
A limited liability company controlled by the Trumps bought the house for $18.5 million in 2018 from the former president’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, according to property records. It’s back on the market at a time when Trump himself is trying to move in across the street at Mar-a-Lago.
The mansion at 1125 S. Ocean Blvd. is so close to Mar-A-Lago, and it’s widely known in the area that the Trumps own it, so it will probably need a pro-Trump buyer, said Guy Clark, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman.
“Because of its proximity and its lack of privacy, it would probably be a difficult thing to sell to someone who’s not a Trump supporter,” Clark said. “It’s great for a Trump supporter to own that house and have the accessibility to Trump and his world. For that type of person it’s the right house.”
The house has an oceanfront balcony, pool, library and sunroom with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Atlantic.
The sale was first reported by the Palm Beach Daily News.
Trump’s Next Challenge Is To Turn 74 Million Believers Into Buyers
The former president’s supporters are unlikely to bring a big boost to his businesses.
They backed Donald Trump in November, and now they aren’t buying what he’s selling.
A quarry owner in the heart of Texas Trump country says she has little interest in staying at one of his hotels. For a sheep rancher in Montana, life’s too tough to throw money at golf. A ballroom-dancing Alabaman who was one of the billionaire’s first donors hasn’t bought anything from him in years.
Interviews with supporters show the challenges for an ex-president who’d like to turn 74 million voters into customers. His business empire is under pressure from a pandemic that’s emptied office towers and hotels, the repercussions of the Capitol riot and government investigations. The company could use a boost from fans who sent Trump to the White House and wanted him there for four more years.
Winning their vote may be easier than getting their dollars, according to the interviews with four of Trump’s earliest donors and six backers in some of the most conservative corners of the country. Some people would like to spend a night in his Central Park hotel suites or pay $375 for a round of golf at his Miami club, but can’t afford them.
Others have the money but not the inclination. Several see no reason why political backing should translate to being a patron. While they represent a small sampling of voters, their responses highlight why Trump may have to expand into media or beyond if he wants to make big money from millions of fans.
“Just because I’m a Trump supporter doesn’t mean I have to support him and his personal businesses,” said Brenda Edwards, who owns stone quarries in Texas’s heavily Republican Glasscock County. The 73-year-old said she can afford one of Trump’s hotels but doesn’t care enough to visit. She drinks wine, “but that doesn’t mean I have to buy his wine.”
Eric Trump, the former president’s second-born son and executive vice president at the Trump Organization, says he is confident the family can convert voters into customers without trying too hard. There are also die-hard Trump fans going out of their way to support his businesses, seeing it as a way to thank him for his service or even fight “cancel culture.”
But Donald Trump built his corporate and political empires around very different groups. While rural voters without college degrees were the core of his constituency in November, his career caters to the coastal elites he mocks from the podium.
“I won’t become a customer, because I won’t become a customer of anybody in his league,” said Jack Murnion, a Targhee sheep rancher in his 70s who’s a former county commissioner in Montana’s Garfield County. More than nine in 10 voters there cast their ballot for Trump in 2020. “I’m never going to stay in a world-class hotel.”
Heather Gibson, another Trump voter in the county, was blunter.
“I don’t give a fig about his business,” said Gibson, a mother of four girls and a superintendent who oversees one-room schoolhouses. “He’s got plenty of money.”
The Trump Organization gets the bulk of its income from towering office buildings, glitzy hotels and golf courses that are out of reach for much of America. The company started developing a mid-market hotel chain in the Mississippi Delta in 2017, but shelved those plans two years later, saying it would return to building the “most luxurious properties in the world.”
“He’s more of a luxury brand,” said Trump’s friend Elie Hirschfeld, an old real estate partner. “Not so much McDonald’s or Holiday Inn.”
Since he first entered office, many of Trump’s businesses have seen a dip in revenue, according to his financial disclosures. Last year was especially bad for his properties as the pandemic slammed travel. Trump’s Doral golf resort, one of the company’s biggest sources of revenue, brought in $44.2 million in 2020 and the first 20 days of 2021, compared with more than $70 million in prior years.
Revenue at his Washington hotel, a hotspot for the Republican elite while its owner was in the White House, dropped 63% from 2019 to 2020.
One of the bright spots has been Trump’s online store, where revenue has grown from $107,186 in 2017 to almost $2 million last year. It sells trinkets and memorabilia that are more accessible to supporters than hotel suites. New arrivals include $15 pet collars and an $80 faded denim jacket with Trump’s name over the heart.
The brand also extends to wine produced at a Virginia estate that’s run by Eric Trump. And there’s the potential for wider reach, with many political watchers speculating Trump will start his own media platform. He’s teased another run for president in 2024, keeping him in the spotlight and potentially making his businesses appealing to Republicans seeking to gain his favor.
In an interview, Eric Trump said there’s “unbelievable political enthusiasm” among visitors to their properties. The 45th president’s company is now selling hats with that number in its online store for $36.
It “symbolizes my father, and he is ultimately the owner of this company,” Eric Trump said. “He was sacrificing so much to go run for office. And I think people appreciate that.”
Trump inherited the business from his father, who built rent-controlled housing in Queens and Brooklyn. “But it was a very tough way to make a buck,” the future president wrote in his first book, “The Art of the Deal.” “I wanted to try something grander, more glamorous, and more exciting.”
Lonnie Hardy, one of Trump’s first donors, bought that book. The futures trader and accountant was on a trip to Texas last year when he picked up four bottles of Trump wine for $21.99 each.
“I have a certain desire to be a patron of his, because of what he did for our country,” said Hardy, who owns a life-sized cutout of Trump giving a thumb’s up. Even so, he said Trump’s expensive hotels and private golf courses don’t interest him and most Americans. “It just isn’t something that touches my life.”
Michael J. D’Angelo is the kind of devotee the Trumps would appreciate. The former banker spent his birthday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with his family in February, his second birthday party there in three years. Near the end of a meal featuring prime rib and chocolate cake with sparklers, the former president strolled into the dining room and got an ovation.
Trump’s full-time presence at the Florida club is a draw to supporters, which, thanks to $250,000 in initiation fees, translates to revenue. The Trumps are testing their support among the area’s wealthy by putting their nearby eight-bedroom house on the market for $49 million, up from the $18.5 million they spent in 2018.
The property, which comes with a complimentary membership to Mar-a-Lago, is so associated with the Trump family that its eventual buyer will likely be a supporter, said Guy Clark, a Douglas Elliman real estate agent in Palm Beach.
D’Angelo patronizes Trump-linked businesses “more directly and with more purpose” than ever before, support that extends to allies including the head of Goya Foods and the pillow salesman Mike Lindell.
“I’ve never bought Goya beans in my life, and now my house looks like a Goya factory,” D’Angelo said. “We’ve got MyPillows everywhere.”
In Alabama, early Trump donor Larry Taylor hasn’t felt the need to buy anything from Trump in the past five years, but the retiree and ballroom dancer would sign up if Trump started his own cable channel. Ted Garrett, a construction manager in Tucson who also was one of the first people to cut a check for Trump’s 2016 race, is less enthusiastic about a media venture.
“I’m not going to spend a dime on something extra like that,” Garrett said. “Never even crossed my mind.”
Garrett plans to spend about 100 nights on the road this year for work, none of them in Trump hotels. He doesn’t see the point in spending hundreds of dollars more than he needs to on a room for the evening.
Murnion, the Montana sheep rancher, wouldn’t subscribe to a Trump network if it cost him, say, an extra $10 a month.
“If we spent money like that, we wouldn’t still be here,” he said. “This is tough country.”
Trump’s Election Lawyer Throws Him Under The Bus
Sidney Powell is trying a brazen and bizarre argument in defending herself against a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems.
Sidney Powell, one of Donald Trump’s former lawyers, is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation. Her lawyers have entered a truly astonishing defense: that her statements alleging the Democratic Party stole the election using the company’s vote counting software can’t be defamation because no reasonable person would have believed them.
The defense is legally wrong. Her statements were clearly assertions of fact — and they were believed by many members of the public.
Nevertheless, it is a fascinating argument — an acknowledgement that any claim associated with Trump could be considered mere bluster, even when framed in factual terms. In short, Powell’s defense is to throw Trump under the bus. The basic idea: He is such a known liar that any assertion made on his behalf in an election can’t be taken as remotely plausible.
Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, for statements to count as defamation, they must be susceptible of being proven true or false. Opinion statements are protected by the First Amendment from being made subject to libel law. Political opinion is especially protected.
Powell’s lawyers say that Colorado law (which they say should apply because it’s where Dominion is located) also separately requires the statements to be recognized as factual by a reasonable person. I am not at all sure that’s what Colorado law actually says.
To me, it sounds much more like the Colorado courts think the way we know whether a statement is factual is to ask whether a reasonable person would find it so. But never mind the quibble. Powell’s defense claim requires her to assert that a reasonable person wouldn’t think her statements about the election being stolen using the Dominion voting software were credible.
The brief points out that Powell’s statements were made as part of Trump’s post-election campaign to overturn the result. It insists they were her opinions and legal theories — and, by extension, Trump’s.
They were, the brief says, merely “claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process” — as though promising to prove facts in court means those aren’t facts at all. The brief also shows screenshots of Powell on Fox News — as if to suggest that nothing said on Fox could be susceptible of being considered fact.
The thrust of the argument is that anything coming from Trump’s camp cannot be taken seriously as a factual statement. It was, Powell’s lawyers are saying, all rhetoric and opinion all the time, and reasonable people knew it.
You would think that the evident fact that many Republicans do believe exactly what Powell asserted would stand in the way of her argument. Not at all. Her lawyers imply either that those people aren’t reasonable, or else that they must be lying about what they think.
Both implications merit notice. Lots of Democrats think the Republicans who believe the election was stolen aren’t being reasonable. On the surface, that would seem to support Powell’s stand.
But on closer analysis, there’s a difference between believing something unreasonable is true and believing the statement is merely opinion of the kind that can’t be either true or false. Presumably the people who unreasonably believe the election was stolen really do believe that elections can be stolen as a matter of fact. So even by her own lawyers’ logic, that can’t be a reason to dismiss Dominion’s lawsuit.
More intriguing is the idea that people who say the election was stolen might not mean it literally as a matter of fact, but only as an expression of political sentiment. This theory is reminiscent of the observation, dating back to the 2016 campaign, that Trump’s supporters take him seriously but not literally while his detractors take him literally but not seriously.
I don’t think we should dismiss out of hand the notion that many Trump supporters are relativists, people who think there aren’t just truths and falsehoods out there but also alternative facts that correspond to political beliefs. Trump himself might believe a version of this vernacular relativism.
If we accepted that in politics, there is no category of factual truth, that would spell the end of libel suits on all matters connected to politics. The suit against Powell would deserve to be thrown out, as her lawyers urge. We would admit that Fox News isn’t peddling facts but only opinions. And that Trump isn’t so much a liar as a relativist who denies that truth itself exists.
Happily, we haven’t yet reached that point. The courts will reject Powell’s “it’s all opinion” defense. Now all we have to do is solve the problem of how to get people to believe the factual truth even when it doesn’t fit their political beliefs.
The Guy Who Spent $30 Million Building Trump’s Wall Is Looking For Buyers
When Tommy Fisher heard the call for a big, beautiful wall, he erected a 3-mile fence along the Rio Grande. Now all he needs is someone to buy it back.
To get to Tommy Fisher’s private border wall in Texas, I drive south from the city of McAllen, then west on Military Road, past a chunk of redundant, abandoned federal border wall, and from there onto a dirt path through a sugar cane farm down to the Rio Grande.
When I arrive, Fisher is waiting, wearing a Western-style plaid shirt, wraparound sunglasses, and a mesh baseball cap featuring his company’s logo. He’s 51 years old, with an ursine build and a disarmingly gentle voice.
By trade a builder of more prosaic infrastructure, such as dams and freeways, Fisher greets me by launching into a baffling sermon on his wall’s technical specifications. Mostly what I perceive is that we’re at its very edge, meaning we could theoretically walk around it and swim 100 yards to Mexico.
Across the river, near the city of Reynosa, which has lately been wracked by unusually intense cartel violence, is a park with wooden docks and straw-roofed gazebos. Beyond the park, according to Fisher, is at least one cartel stash house, where drugs or people are stowed before being smuggled to America. As I poke around, Fisher says, “Make yourself at home.”
There are two private-sector border walls attempting to separate Mexico from the U.S., and Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. has built them both. The first, erected in the summer of 2019, is nestled in a mountainous half-mile stretch of New Mexico. The second—this one—is more ambitious. Completed last year, it’s about a 90-minute drive from the Gulf of Mexico, under the low, heavy skies of South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
The structure is 3 miles long, hugging a severe bend in the river, and consists of roughly 15,000 18-foot-tall gray steel bollards, spaced 5 inches apart and set in a wide concrete foundation. (In this sense it’s more like a fence, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll mainly call it a wall.) Up close, one can easily see between the bollards. From a distance they appear to be a contiguous, glinting slab of sheet metal.
Fisher continues pummeling me with information about his creation—“galvanized steel,” “modified spread footing”—sounding like a proud parent, or maybe an anxious student, at a science fair. “If I only did 1,000 or 2,000 feet, everyone’s going to make fun,” he says. “No one can really make fun of this.”
He’s also invited Scott Hennen, a conservative radio host from his home state of North Dakota, to cover this late-March visit. Hennen is broadcasting live from a booth Fisher ordinarily uses to monitor security footage. It’s a couple of miles away, so we drive over to meet him. An entourage of Fisher’s contractors joins us for the tour.
“I was like, ‘This would be really fun. This would be a project that would be remembered, like the Hoover Dam’”
Although Hennen’s state borders Canada, not Mexico, his callers are eager to discuss the surge of Central American migration that’s occurred early in the Biden era. Three days earlier, former Trump adviser Stephen Miller joined Hennen for an hourlong segment on the issue. Wearing a headset, wiry and in his mid-50s, Hennen walks in and out of the booth, monologuing.
“We’re gonna talk to Tommy Fisher, who is North Dakota-born-and-bred, which is why he was able to build 3 miles of wall in 30 days,” he says. He reads a text message from a listener about the specter of Covid-positive migrants and runs with the point, complaining that they’re being beckoned into the country while idiotic but basically innocent American spring breakers are demonized for partying.
Fisher stands awkwardly outside the booth, hands in pockets. He’s conservative, too, but Midwest-nice about it and not prone to rants. Eventually, Hennen turns to him. “We are looking at a project that you did, on your own dime,” he says. “Why did you do this?”
For ages, Fisher has dreamed of building an epic piece of infrastructure. A decade ago, Nevada hired him to construct what’s apparently the longest cathedral arch bridge in the world, but it didn’t make him a household name. When Donald Trump ran for president, promising to wall off the entire 1,954-mile southern border, Fisher sensed an opportunity.
“I was like, ‘This would be really fun. This would be a project that would be remembered, like the Hoover Dam,’ ” he says. “Today the Hoover Dam is the cheapest electricity you can find in the U.S.—anywhere. And, you know, they took a lot of heat, too.”
In the first few years after the 2016 election, Fisher spent more than $100,000 on lobbying in Washington and mounted a media blitz, claiming on Newsmax and Fox News that his company could build a wall faster and cheaper than anyone else, thanks to vertical integration that included doing its own land excavation and cement mixing.
Fisher Sand & Gravel’s history with the government wasn’t pristine. In 2009 one of Fisher’s brothers had been sentenced to 37 months in prison for filing doctored tax returns on behalf of himself and the company, which paid $1.1 million to the IRS as part of a plea agreement. Separately, the company has racked up close to $1 million in fines for environmental, labor, and safety violations.
As he angled for wall contracts, Fisher quickly encountered the vagaries of the federal contracting process. A prototype he built in 2017 was rejected by the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initially denied his bid to compete for the contracts at all.
But the cable news exposure helped him draw the attention of We Build the Wall (WBTW), a nonprofit founded by Brian Kolfage, an Iraq War veteran and triple amputee, and co-led by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
The group, which sought to crowdfund border security, attracted a mix of true believers and attention hounds, among them immigration hawk Kris Kobach, who served as its general counsel, and former baseball player Curt Schilling, who sat on its board. Blocked from erecting Trump’s official wall, Fisher became the in-house builder for the ersatz private version.
In the spring of 2019, WBTW paid him $6.9 million to build its first barrier, the half-mile in New Mexico. Fisher used the gig to show off proprietary construction techniques, which he promoted with a drone-camera-filmed sizzle reel.
By late 2019 he’d reached an agreement with a farmer named Lance Neuhaus to buy a 45-acre strip of riverfront land near McAllen, on which he would build a second WBTW-funded structure.
Partly, Neuhaus says, he sold because Fisher offered him a good price. He also thought the structure might stem what he says was a daily flow of migrants onto his farm. The wall would be built closer to the Rio Grande than any existing federal barrier.
WBTW sent Fisher an initial payment of $1.5 million, for what he says ended up being a $30 million job. He ordered a bunch of steel and started clearing vegetation. But the project was soon overshadowed by the group’s antics.
WBTW deployed a kind of human mascot known as Foreman Mike to patrol the site in a hard hat and scout for immigrants, while Kolfage sent out increasingly aggressive tweets about the National Butterfly Center, a nearby wildlife preserve whose executive director, Marianna Treviño-Wright, vocally opposed border wall construction.
Kolfage called the center a “big business” that “openly supports illegal immigration and sex trafficking of women and children.” (Treviño-Wright, for her part, says she considers WBTW a “ Cambridge Analytica-style psy-op.” She has also filed suit against Kolfage for defamation. His lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Eventually, Fisher got the sense that Bannon’s gang wasn’t necessarily committed to another wall. After he called WBTW for another payment and it never came, he kicked Foreman Mike off the site, parted ways with the organization, and started funding the project with company money.
Several months later, in August 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicted Bannon, Kolfage, and two other WBTW figures for allegedly enriching themselves with money Kolfage had assured donors—mostly ordinary cable-news-watching types—would go to wall construction.
Before Trump left office, he issued a preemptive pardon that appears to have shielded Bannon from prosecution, rendering his not-guilty plea moot. Kolfage and the other co-defendants, who also pleaded not guilty, are set to go to trial in November.
Fisher wasn’t implicated—he was just building wall. But that caused trouble of its own. For one, he was sued by the National Butterfly Center, which argued his wall could end up diverting water and debris onto its land in the event of a flood.
And as if the notion of a border wall drowning butterflies weren’t bad enough, he was also sued by an obscure government agency, the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which argued diverted water could end up displacing the U.S.-Mexico borderline.
Fisher contested the suits, confident that when construction was complete, the U.S. government would want to buy what he was calling the “Lamborghini” of walls. The bureaucrats may have sniffed at his earlier building proposals, but his peacocking for the White House was starting to pay off.
According to the Washington Post, Trump and his adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had begun urging the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to give wall contracts to the guy they recognized from Fox News.
In the last year of Trump’s term, even as federal prosecutors were hovering around WBTW, Fisher Sand & Gravel was awarded $2.5 billion to build 135 miles’ worth of federal wall sections near Yuma and Nogales in Arizona and El Paso and Laredo in Texas.
(Following a request by a Democratic congressman, the U.S. Department of Defense is conducting an audit to determine whether one of the contract awards was politically motivated; in a statement, the Army Corps of Engineers said it goes to “great lengths to ensure the integrity of our contracting process.”)
Then Joe Biden was elected president, and the odds that America would buy an unsanctioned border wall associated with an allegedly criminal enterprise helmed by Steve Bannon dropped significantly. Once in office, Biden halted construction of Trump’s wall, too, freezing the eleventh-hour building frenzy that had taken place in the runup to Inauguration Day.
Fisher’s private 3-mile wall seemed destined to live on as a monument to the nativism, opportunism, and general half-assery of the Trump era.
And yet, Fisher remains eager to promote it, for one very un-ignorable reason: The border crisis isn’t going away. In June, 188,829 people were apprehended at the southern frontier, the highest monthly total in at least two decades and a roughly sixfold increase from the year before.
Makeshift government shelters have overflowed, leaving migrants, many of them minors from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, living in cramped, abominable conditions during a pandemic.
Throughout the spring, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processed the influx of children and families applying for asylum, an estimated 1,000 adults a day were slipping across the border freely, the highest number agency officials could recall.
While the drivers of the surge were long-standing problems in migrants’ home countries, many recent arrivals said they’d come now because they’d understood Biden would be more welcoming than Trump.
Despite the broad popularity of his heady domestic agenda, Biden was suddenly polling negatively on immigration and fighting the perception of even some in his own party, such as U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, that he didn’t have control of the border. “Do not come.
Do not come,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, the administration’s point person on the immigration surge, during a June visit to Guatemala. “The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”
Republicans have pounced, crowing that Biden is pulling the plug on wall-building at exactly the wrong time. And Fisher would argue he’s pulling the plug in the wrong place. The Rio Grande Valley, where his 3-mile wall sits, is by far the most highly trafficked of the nine Southwest sectors policed by CBP.
Of the 79,519 unaccompanied minors the Border Patrol apprehended in the first six months of this year, 40,507 entered via the valley, up from about 3,800 in the first half of 2020. Walking the banks of the river near Fisher’s wall, I find ample evidence of recent border crossings: a Motorola flip phone, a 20-peso bill, a Winnie the Pooh towel, a small fridge that may have been used as a raft.
With the We Build the Wall trial looming, Fisher’s critics still tend to associate his fence with the group. “I think it was some racist front scheme,” says Ricky Garza, a McAllen-based attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents landowners in border disputes with the government.
Ryan Patrick, the now former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas who led the IBWC case, has publicly described Fisher’s wall as a “scam,” a “vanity project,” and “beyond vaporware.”
From this vantage point, Fisher appears to have erected two small walls nobody asked for while leveraging his connection with Bannon & Co. to build a lavish, taxpayer-funded political dog whistle. When I put this critique to him, he looks wounded. He says his procurement of federal contracts had nothing to do with his private wall.
In fact, in his telling, what he’s built in Texas is superior to what Trump contracted him to do. It’s proof of concept for something that’s never quite been attempted in the U.S. And if scaled up, he argues, it would solve a problem the government hasn’t been able to crack.
Fisher concludes his interview with Hennen, and we drive back through the sugar cane farm until we reach the steel border fence I’d passed on Military Road. Hennen heads into an abandoned shed to record a Facebook Live hit. Fisher, the contractors, and I drive up for a closer look.
This is Trump-era federal wall, built on a dirt levee by a rival contractor based out of Galveston, Texas. Nobody’s here; work stopped abruptly on Jan. 20, the day Biden issued his moratorium.
The structure was supposed to be part of a 13-mile system of border barriers, but construction didn’t start until 2020, and it’s only a couple thousand feet long. Fisher brought me here to highlight the superiority of his product, which we can see about a mile to the south. “You’re a BP agent,” says Tad Dyer, Fisher’s landscaping guy.
“Do you want to patrol a 150-foot-wide strip? Or do you want to patrol 2,000 yards?” He’s referring to the gap between wall and river. Fisher’s wall is right up close. This one is nowhere near.
Federal wall in the Rio Grande Valley is largely a patchwork of rust-colored 18-foot-tall bollard fence, erected in the early Obama years, and rust-colored 30-foot-tall bollard fence, erected in the late Trump years. Sections stop and start suddenly, with gaps wherever the government couldn’t build.
There’s no official map documenting it, and recently constructed stretches haven’t shown up on Google Maps’ satellite view yet.
As we drive from one ghostly swath of the wall to the next, it becomes evident that its most salient feature is how little of it the federal government has managed to build.
There’s a reason for this. The U.S.-Mexico border is in fact more like two borders. West of El Paso, it runs 699 miles through the deserts and mountains of New Mexico, Arizona, and California before splashing into the Pacific Ocean.
Almost all of that borderland is owned by the federal government, anchored by a 60-foot-wide strip President Theodore Roosevelt secured in 1907 to patrol for smugglers. Wall-building there is legally straightforward.
East of El Paso lies 1,255 miles of Texas border, spanning a number of climates and terrains, separated from Mexico by the natural barrier of the Rio Grande. Almost all of this land is privately owned, divided into countless weirdly shaped parcels: ranches, farms, backyards.
(The reasons for this are rather byzantine and can be traced to the terms of the Union’s 1845 annexation of Texas.) To build here, the government must either persuade landowners to lease part of their property or else seize it via eminent domain. Either way, it’s hard.
Prior to the 1990s, the little fencing that existed along the U.S.-Mexico border was made out of flimsy chain-link, often serving to pen in roaming livestock. In response to increasing illegal migration by Mexican job seekers, the U.S. government in 1993 erected its first bona fide border wall, between Tijuana and San Diego County, then the busiest point of entry.
Jerry-rigged out of corrugated steel helicopter landing mats used in the Vietnam and Gulf wars, it was 10 feet tall and 14 miles long.
The wall worked, in the sense that apprehensions declined significantly in San Diego. The wall also didn’t work, in the sense that it funneled traffic eastward. The Clinton administration ended up building more landing-mat wall in the Arizona cities of Naco and Nogales, while deploying “human walls” of border agents elsewhere to stand sentry.
The result, once again, was that migration patterns shifted to more remote crossings. In the decade that followed, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, immigration-related deaths doubled, as migrants succumbed to thirst and exposure in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert.
The George W. Bush and Obama administrations increased total fencing to 654 miles, about half of it tall steel barriers designed to prevent pedestrian crossings and half of it shorter barricades to rebuff vehicles.
Between the two administrations, basically all the borderland of California, Arizona, and New Mexico got cordoned off with some kind of deterrent structure. In those three states, apprehensions plummeted. But in Texas, despite hundreds of federal attempts to seize land, virtually nothing was built.
Absurdly, the situation repeated itself during the Trump administration. Having staked his political identity on building a wall, Trump proceeded to refortify everything west of Texas, mostly commissioning taller, sturdier versions of what Bush and Obama had already built.
By January 2021 Trump’s administration had erected 452 miles of wall, 372 of which replaced or renovated existing structures. For this it allocated $15 billion, compared with the $2.5 billion spent by the Bush and Obama administrations combined. In Texas, predictably, the border stayed stubbornly unwalled: Of 110 miles Trump pledged to build in the Rio Grande Valley, he managed only 17.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the most highly trafficked border region is also among the very hardest to fence off. This challenge gave Fisher his opening. The government struggles to build in Texas not only because it doesn’t own the land, but also because its sales pitch to landowners is awful.
The IBWC blocks border wall construction within the flood plain of the Rio Grande, typically forcing it to take place a mile or so inland, where it might bisect somebody’s property or hem it in from the north.
Consider the Loops, a Brownsville farming family whose home is caught between Obama-era wall on one side and the Rio Grande on the other. To enter and exit, they must punch a code that opens an electronic gate in the wall. In January 2017 their home caught fire with their pets trapped inside. The fire department, needing to negotiate the gate, didn’t arrive in time, and the house was destroyed.
Fisher got around this problem by testing the federal government’s rules and sticking his bollards right on the Rio Grande. “You gotta put your border protection on the border,” he says, frequently. That, he figures, is the starting point for serious wall-building in Texas.
“Can you imagine if this was 50 to 100 miles, and this was a bike path you could use?”
As much as Fisher believes in his private wall, what he really needs is for someone else to believe in it, and to believe in it enough to take it off his hands. That’s where publicity, he hopes, comes in. After our tour of the abandoned federal barriers, he tells me that to get the full wall experience I need to see his private one again at night.
We lunch at a Mexican restaurant in a mall, head back to our respective hotels, and return a few hours later, at sundown. The weather is windy and cool, the atmosphere unnervingly hushed. The wall’s foundation doubles as a wide concrete road, illuminated by floodlights that turn on at sunset.
Federal walls tend to lack such amenities, and he wants me to get a good look at them. Our vehicles trace the perimeter like stock cars on a track. We drive by a burning bush. One of us runs over a snake.
Before Fisher cleared the land, the banks were populated by a thick, tall, invasive species known as carrizo cane, which probably helped protect the banks from erosion but also made it easy for people to hide from the Border Patrol. The sugar cane farther inland has recently been harvested, too, giving much of the property a buzz-cut look.
When we reach the end of the wall, a couple of Border Patrol agents are hanging out in their truck. Dyer, the landscape guy, mentioned to me earlier that Border Patrol sometimes comes here to nap. The two agents tell Fisher they’ve generally been apprehending someone here every other day.
Fisher opens a gate in the wall to get a better view of the river. Just to the north, a handful of Texas Army National Guard soldiers, deployed in support of the Border Patrol, are monitoring the Rio Grande in a Humvee. On the river a motorboat passes by, mounted with what appears to be a .30-caliber machine gun.
“Rangers!” Fisher calls to the Texas Rangers on board. He gestures upriver, past some swaying palm trees. “This is always my favorite. Sort of peaceful,” he says. “All lit up.” The wall, he tells me, was designed to integrate with the landscape. He calls his bollards “silver trees.” Their pyramidal tops are a tribute to the Washington Monument.
Walls get a bad rap, in Fisher’s view. “I just think they gotta take the stigma out of the wall as a, I mean, you know what I’m saying, racist kind of thing?” he says. “It’s a border, it’s a barrier, that’s all it means.” Part of his attempt to destigmatize walls involves pitching his as, in essence, a family-friendly mixed-use property.
Earlier he gave me a flash drive containing what’s surely a one-of-a-kind rendering: Mexico, the river, his wall—and a bike path. In the illustration, the concrete roadway is divided in two. On one side are bikers wearing helmets; on the other, green-and-white Border Patrol trucks.
Ideally, Fisher wouldn’t just sell off his wall—he’d expand it, charging $20 million per additional mile. Standing there that evening, he starts to dream. “Can you imagine if this was 50 to 100 miles, and this was a bike path you could use?
Even if the Border Patrol was over here, minding their own business?” He dreams some more. “Texas could have the longest bike path anywhere in the world. Four hundred miles. Five hundred miles.”
I find it hard not to imagine an amended rendering that includes a Border Patrol officer chasing immigrants across the sugar cane field. Not to mention that, by the agency’s count, at least 203 people have died trying to cross the border illegally so far this year; in late 2019 the body of a man washed up yards away from Fisher’s construction crew, attached to empty plastic water bottles that hadn’t saved him from drowning.
I suggest to Fisher that bike riders might find it hard to enjoy the great outdoors as they witness destitute Central American families rafting across the river. But he’s now dreaming even bigger, and he doesn’t seem to hear me. He imagines creating a gigantic athletic field on the nearby farmland. He could host competitions. “The best of Mexico would play the best of America.” The Border Games. He sounds serious.
For most Americans, the wall is a charged political symbol and a physical abstraction. For Fisher, it can seem like the opposite: a cool infrastructure project that just happens to separate the U.S. and Mexico. But although his North Dakota upbringing may not have steeped him in the nuances of Central American migration, he’s lived for over a decade in Tempe, Ariz., where his company has its southern headquarters, and he’s developed views.
He’s certainly not in favor of open borders, though he often frames his opposition to illegal immigration by citing abuse that migrants suffer at the hands of cartel coyotes. “I really feel that if the border was done, people couldn’t exploit people from other countries,” he says.
At least to me, Fisher is pitching his wall in idealistic terms. To his potential buyers, he claims it’s just a superior product. For one thing, his wall doesn’t have the 5-foot-high “anti-climb” plate that graces recently built federal wall. These plates are supposed to make it harder for people to hike themselves up the bollards.
But Fisher argues that they’re excellent anchors for makeshift grappling hooks and that, when the wind batters them, they shake the wall’s foundation.
Other differences: His steel bollards have been coated with zinc to prevent rusting, and at 18 feet rather than 30, they pose less risk of serious injury if someone falls from the top. Then, of course, there are the border security perks offered by the cleared cane, the bright lights, the road for Border Patrol trucks, and—most important—the proximity to the river.
None of these virtues, nor the billions of dollars the Trump administration was planning to bestow on Fisher to build federal fencing, prevented the U.S. government from turning against his private wall. “I never got any pushback from the White House or the DOJ or anybody else,” says Patrick, the former U.S. attorney who sued on behalf of the IBWC. “Everybody was like, ‘This is stupid, this violates the law, go ahead.’ ”
In July 2020, several months after the suit was filed, reporters from ProPublica and the Texas Tribune commissioned hydrologists and engineers to analyze the wall. They concluded that riverbank erosion put it at serious risk of toppling. Trump evidently saw the article, tweeting that the wall had been built “to make me look bad.” (“I don’t believe he had all the facts,” Fisher says.)
A month later a hurricane caused significant erosion of the banks, up to and under the concrete foundation. Treviño-Wright, the National Butterfly Center executive director, crawled underneath to demonstrate, tweeting out the photo evidence.
I’m not an engineer, but the soil around the base of the wall does feel disturbingly crumbly when I kick at it. Fisher says that his concrete is buttressed by steel rebar and that his erosion problem will disappear once the Bermuda grass he planted fully grows in and his sloped “golf course” riverbanks are lush.
At one point, Fisher tells me he heard that someone with the Army Corps of Engineers derided his wall as “toothpicks in concrete.”
“Toothpicks that don’t break,” he retorts. The Corps declined to comment.
While Fisher’s critics wrangle over whether his wall is primarily an object of exclusion or of pathetic ineffectiveness, some of its neighbors have an entirely different perspective. Across Military Road, north of the sugar cane farm, Al Parker and his wife have been living in the same house for about 25 years. Surrounded by thorny shrubs and low-hanging mesquite trees, the property is remote, with no neighbors on either side.
When I meet him, Parker, who works as a maintenance manager in the oil industry, is wearing a camo hat and a work shirt with “Al” emblazoned above the breast. He starts telling me about the last time a migrant passed through his property. “My wife was sitting on the back porch, and a woman walked out of the brush in tears,” he says. “She’d been hiding in the brush for two days, and she was exhausted, and hungry, and thirsty. I fed her and got her some water and called BP.”
The point of the story isn’t the event itself, which Parker says has repeated itself thousands of times at the house. The point is how long ago it took place. “It went from three or four times a week, to now it’s every four months,” he says. “I mean, the activity has ceased.
One day my wife and I are sitting at the table, and it’s one of those ‘exhale’ moments: You realize it’s been a month, we haven’t had anybody at the front door or traversing through the property.” The change came after Fisher’s wall went up.
I get a similar report from George Syer, a longtime local Border Patrol agent who retired last September. Syer had spent countless nights patrolling the farm’s 800 acres with his flashlight, trying to apprehend migrants who’d rafted onto the property. He says the crossings abated when Fisher’s wall was erected. On their own, he tells me, walls are inadequate.
People can go over or around them. They can saw through them. There’s video of all of this on the internet. What they do is slow down and funnel foot traffic, easing the Border Patrol’s job. “What Fisher did is he mitigated all of the brush, he put up the wall. Now we have visibility, and we have control of the flow,” Syer says. “Once his fence was up, we were concentrating further up the river, where we didn’t have fence.”
Whatever the merits of Fisher’s wall, there is one factor, a recent change in immigration patterns, that can render its advantages moot—and can make it seem pointless to build any kind of barrier in Texas. The morning after we meet, Syer and I hop in a boat so he can show me the location of popular river crossings in relation to Fisher’s property.
Toward the end of the ride, not far from the official U.S. port on the Anzalduas International Bridge, we see a smuggler unsteadily ferry almost 20 people, mostly women and young children, across the river on an inflatable green-and-yellow raft. No one appears to be wearing a life vest.
On the bank on the Mexican side, off a well-trod dirt path, about 20 more people are waiting for the smuggler to return for them. When Syer and I disembark, we climb in his pickup and head to the levee-wall border fence, a combination of Obama-era and Trump-era construction, that the migrants are probably aiming for. He texts his ex-colleagues to tell them a small group is on its way to find them, in case a brush sensor hasn’t alerted them already.
And that’s the thing. Prior to 2014, illegal crossers tended to be Mexicans seeking to evade detection. The migration surges since then, including the last two big ones, in 2014 and 2019, have been driven by Central Americans, many fleeing poverty or gang violence and hoping to apply for asylum. Once these migrants disembark on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, they aren’t trying to escape Border Patrol. They’re trying to be found.
Biden is expelling the majority of migrants, ostensibly for public-health reasons, as soon as they’re encountered by Customs and Border Protection, under a Covid-era policy instituted by the Trump administration. But unlike Trump, Biden is allowing all unaccompanied Central American minors and what’s amounted to roughly 80% of families to remain in the country while they seek asylum.
While most of the new arrivals won’t technically qualify for it, the immigration courts are so backlogged—about 1.3 million cases were pending when Biden took office—that many applicants can live in the country for months or years awaiting a hearing.
Fisher’s barrier might be closer to the border than any other wall in Texas, but the 30-odd feet separating it from the Rio Grande is all an asylum-seeker needs. The irony of Fisher Sand & Gravel’s 3-mile wall, with its floodlights and freshly cleared carrizo cane, with its ambitions of bike lanes and sports fields, is that it isn’t so much thwarting immigrants as beckoning them.
For now, everything is in limbo. The IBWC is trying to get Fisher to fortify the riverbank or maybe modify the structure—and, if all else fails, remove the wall entirely. The commission’s and the National Butterfly Center’s cases have been joined, and a trial won’t take place until spring 2022 at the earliest. Meanwhile, the tax bill on the land has skyrocketed.
The property has been reassessed at 100 times its previous value because of a county quirk that now classifies it as “commercial” rather than agricultural land. Fisher, who says he’s disputing the assessment, is on the hook.
His federal wall contracts are in limbo, too. While border wall construction is currently paused, it’s unclear if it will stay that way. In May the Biden administration announced that it was canceling wall-building contracts Trump paid for by diverting funds from the Department of Defense.
But that still leaves all the suspended wall projects funded with $5 billion of Department of Homeland Security money. “I suspect there’s a plan being formulated,” says Garza, of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “The Biden administration will try to claim a win and say, ‘No more wall construction, but we’ll pivot to virtual walls: sensors, cameras, and roads.’ ”
When Biden’s moratorium was announced, Fisher had completed 79 of the 135 miles he’d been contracted to build. If Garza is right, it’s conceivable Fisher could keep working a couple of his jobs, build border infrastructure that’s more palatable to Democrats, and recoup some of the cash he spent on his private wall.
There’s still hope for the big score, too. When we were at the border, Hennen, the radio host, helpfully floated the idea of finding 20 patriotic billionaires to pay $1 million each to help sustain the private wall, but that scheme is thus far 20 billionaires short. Instead, Fisher has been traipsing around Texas, pitching his barrier as part of a larger statewide system.
On the strength of his silver-tree prototype, he tells me, he’s reached handshake agreements with 15 or so landowners to build on their properties. He says he’s also enlisted former CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan and former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan as paid consultants in hopes they’ll have influence with Texas Governor Greg Abbott. (Morgan and Homan didn’t respond to requests for comment.)
In June, Fisher was handed a potential lifeline when Abbott announced that Texas was getting into the wall-building business. Whether or not the state hires Fisher or builds anything at all, at least one element of its operation will be familiar: In the week following Abbott’s announcement, Texas raised $459,000 from private donors.
And if nothing comes of any of it, well, it’s not in Fisher’s nature to dwell on the negative. “Worst-case scenario,” he says, “I protected 3 miles of the southern border.”
Trump Tax Returns Must Be Released By IRS To Congress, Justice Department Says
* The income tax returns of former President Donald Trump must be released by the IRS to Congress, the Department of Justice said.
* The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel said Congress had made a legitimate request to see Trump’s tax returns.
* The decision came more than a year after the Supreme Court said Trump’s tax returns and other financial records had to be turned over by his longtime accountants to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. as part of a criminal probe.
The income tax returns of former President Donald Trump must be released by the IRS to Congress, the Department of Justice said Friday.
The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel said the Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee had made a request with a legitimate legislative purpose to see Trump’s tax returns, with a stated objective of assessing how the IRS audits presidents’ tax returns.
That 39-page opinion is a reversal of an opinion by the same office, during the Trump administration, which had backed the IRS’ refusal to give the committee Trump’s returns.
Under federal law, the tax-related committees of Congress have a “broad right” to obtain taxpayer information from the Treasury Department, the IRS’ parent, the new opinion noted.
“The statute at issue here is unambiguous: ‘Upon written request’ of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary ‘shall furnish’ the requested tax information to the Committee,’” Friday’s opinion said.
While those committees cannot force the executive branch of the government to compel disclosure of that information, the opinion noted that tax returns should be denied to the committees “only in exceptional circumstances,” and when that request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
The opinion said that the OLC “went astray” in 2019 by suggesting that the executive branch should “closely scrutinize the Committee’s stated justifications for its requests” in a way that failed to give due respect and deference to the legislative branch of government.
The decision comes more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court said that Trump’s tax returns and other financial records had to be turned over by his longtime accountants to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., because of a subpoena issued as part of criminal probe.
The Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, were charged July 1 by Vance with crimes related to an alleged scheme since 2005 to avoid the payment of taxes on compensation for the CFO and other top executives.
Trump broke decades of precedent as both a presidential candidate and occupant of the White House by refusing to voluntarily release his income tax returns.
He had said his returns were under audit by the IRS as a justification for not disclosing the returns.
But there is no prohibition on taxpayers releasing their returns to the public even when those returns are being audited.
The Justice Department’s opinion, coming as it does under an attorney general, Merrick Garland, picked by President Joe Biden, is likely to ire Trump.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a statement, “As I have maintained for years, the Committee’s case is very strong and the law is on our side.”
“I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward,” Neal said.
Neal’s committee in July 2019 had sued the Treasury Department and the IRS to obtain Trump’s tax returns after then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the head of the tax agency defied subpoenas demanding six years’ of Trump’s personal and business returns. Mnuchin at the time contended that the committee had no legitimate legislative purpose in seeking the documents.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement, said, “Today, the Biden Administration has delivered a victory for the rule of law, as it respects the public interest by complying with Chairman Neal’s request for Donald Trump’s tax returns.”
“As Speaker, on behalf of the House of Representatives, I applaud Chairman Neal for his dignified pursuit of the truth and the Biden Administration Department of Justice for its respect for the law,” Pelosi said.
“Access to former President Trump’s tax returns is a matter of national security,” she said. “The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president.”
Trump NYC Tower Debt Hits Watch List With Vacancies Rising
A $100 million loan on Donald Trump’s Fifth Avenue tower was moved to a watch list Monday because of “lower average occupancy,” according to information compiled by Wells Fargo & Co.
The debt, sponsored by the former president himself, is secured by the 244,482 square feet (22,700 square meters) of office and retail space in Trump Tower.
Occupancy has dipped to 78.9% from 85.9% at the end of 2020, according to Wells Fargo, the master servicer of the loan. Revenue from the property was $33.7 million in 2020, according to the loan documents. In the first quarter of 2021, it was $7.5 million.
Eric Trump, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Trump Organization is far from alone in facing real estate challenges. The pandemic has battered Manhattan, sending office and retail vacancy rates soaring and weighing on asking rents.
Marc Fisher, whose showroom occupied the 21st floor of Trump Tower, “vacated prior to lease end,” Wells Fargo said in the note, adding that the Trump Organization is trying to find a replacement.
In March, Trump’s company sued the footwear maker, which used to partner with Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fashion line, for more than $1 million in unpaid back rent. It later dropped the lawsuit, according to court records.
Fisher’s space was 10.8% of the gross leasable area of Trump Tower, whose largest current tenants are the Trump Organization itself, Gucci America Inc. and ICC Industries, according to the information compiled by Wells Fargo. Trump is current on payments for the $100 million mortgage.
The loan, which matures next year, is just one piece of the more than $590 million of debt held by the Trump Organization that comes due within the next four years. More than half of that is personally guaranteed by Trump.
One of Trump’s favored lenders, Deutsche Bank AG, cut ties with him after the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year. Among the outstanding loans Trump has with the bank is $125 million for his Doral, Florida, golf resort that matures in 2023.
There is also more than $150 million in debt tied to the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C., which now houses a Trump International Hotel. The Trump Organization has been looking for a buyer for that property, where the debt matures in 2024.
The Trump Organization got a boost earlier this year when a partner in one of its most valuable assets, Vornado Realty Trust, refinanced debt on an office tower in San Francisco. Trump holds a 30% stake in the property and the deal generated a $617 million cash-out for its owners.
“We are one of the most under-leveraged real estate companies in the country relative to our assets,” Eric Trump said at the time of the Vornado bond sales in April.
Trump Looks For Challenger To Depose Mitch Mcconnell As Split Widens
GOP’s most influential figure and its top elected official are divided on policy, politics and who should lead the party in the future.
Mitch McConnell’s record-long reign as Senate Republican leader has lasted long enough for former President Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump has spoken recently with senators and allies about trying to depose Mr. McConnell and whether any Republicans are interested in mounting a challenge, according to people familiar with the conversations.
There is little appetite among Senate Republicans for such a plan, lawmakers and aides said, but the discussions risk driving a wedge deeper between the most influential figure in the Republican Party and its highest-ranking member in elected office.
Since failing to be re-elected, the former president has maintained high levels of support among conservative voters, and polls show he has convinced much of the party that the 2020 results were fraudulent. Mr. McConnell has said that President Biden won the election and that Mr. Trump’s “wild falsehoods” about the outcome were responsible for the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.
They have also split on policy this year. Mr. McConnell joined 18 fellow Senate Republicans in voting for a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, despite Mr. Trump saying the deal “makes the Republicans look weak, foolish, and dumb.”
The feud between the two men threatens to splinter the party when Republicans could be building momentum in their bid to recapture control of Congress next year. As polls have shown Mr. Biden’s approval rating dipping below 50% this summer—a troubling signal for Democrats’ political fortunes—the two Republican septuagenarians remain divided over how to tilt the balance of a 50-50 Senate back toward their party.
In a recent interview, Mr. Trump declined to discuss whether he was recruiting challengers for Mr. McConnell. The former president did say he wanted Senate Republicans to oust the Kentuckian from the leadership position he has held for almost 15 years.
“They ought to,” Mr. Trump said. “I think he’s very bad for the Republican Party.”
Mr. McConnell declined to comment. But his grip on the party’s 50 senators appeared steadfast.
“Naw, I’m not going to get in that fight,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R., Ala.), one of Mr. Trump’s top allies in the Senate. Mr. McConnell, he added, “is doing a good job.”
Republican senators vote every two years on which members to elevate as leaders, and Mr. McConnell’s eighth term in the top spot—the longest-ever tenure for a Republican leader—doesn’t end until the next session of Congress in January 2023.
The record for either party is held by Mike Mansfield of Montana, who was Democratic leader of the Senate for 16 years until he resigned in 1977.
Mr. McConnell has held on to his position by maintaining a high level of satisfaction among Senate Republicans even as retiring members repeatedly cite the diminishing chances for legislative accomplishment as a reason for quitting.
Political-action committees run by allies of Mr. McConnell—including the Senate Leadership Fund, American Crossroads and various state-specific groups—spent $462.5 million in helping to elect Republicans in 2020.
In the first six months of 2021, Mr. Trump stockpiled $102 million in political cash. He reported no donations to Republican campaigns during that time.
Sen. John Kennedy equated the former president’s odds of ousting Mr. McConnell to that of a donkey learning to fly.
“I just don’t realistically see that happening,” said Mr. Kennedy, a Republican facing re-election next year in Louisiana and one of Mr. Trump’s confidants in the Senate.
Mr. McConnell has served in the Senate since 1985, the same year as Mr. Trump’s first major prime-time national television interview. Three-dozen years later, the two men are circling each other on the map of competitive Senate races. Republicans are defending 20 Senate seats in 2022, compared with 14 held by Democrats.
Mr. Trump has spoken about what he views as his outsize influence on the Senate’s 2020 races and pointed to his endorsement as the reason at least 10 Republican contenders won their contests.
Many Republican strategists dispute that math and blame the former president for pivotal losses in the final two races. As Mr. Trump falsely identified widespread fraud as the reason for his defeat, depressed turnout cost Georgia Republicans a pair of runoffs—and the Senate majority—in January, they say.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has swiftly endorsed candidates in several races before the 2022 midterms, challenging Mr. McConnell and his team.
The main disagreement has been over the style of candidate best suited to pick off seats from Democrats. Mr. Trump has leaned on personal relationships and loyalty tests for most of his endorsements. In contrast, Mr. McConnell has looked to Republicans who have been vetted, with a demonstrated ability to win in their states.
In Georgia, Mr. Trump has backed Herschel Walker, a college football legend and close Trump family friend for a U.S. Senate seat.
Republican strategists allied with Mr. McConnell privately worry that Mr. Walker might struggle to win over general-election voters because of allegations of domestic violence and business troubles, which he has denied.
In Arizona, Mr. McConnell’s team and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have tried to recruit Gov. Doug Ducey to take on Sen. Mark Kelly, the incumbent Democrat. Mr. Ducey has drawn Mr. Trump’s ire for not doing more to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in the state and has declined to run.
The only primary so far featuring a direct Trump-McConnell showdown is in Alaska, where the former president has endorsed a bid from a former state agency head, Kelly Tshibaka, to unseat Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Ms. Murkowski, who has support from Mr. McConnell and the NRSC as she seeks her fourth six-year term, was among seven Republican senators who voted in February to convict Mr. Trump at his second Senate impeachment trial. She is the only one of those who is seeking re-election next year. Mr. Trump was acquitted.
Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidates haven’t echoed his call to remove Mr. McConnell from power. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell—both locked in competitive primaries for U.S. Senate seats—didn’t respond to requests for comment about Mr. McConnell and whether they would accept help from political-action committees tied to the Republican leader. Ms. Tshibaka and Mr. Walker also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for the Senate campaign of Rep. Ted Budd (R., N.C.) said he would “welcome the support of anyone or any group who shares” his vision for the Republican party, but wouldn’t address whether Mr. Budd would support Mr. McConnell for leader.
The former president hasn’t made an endorsement in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary, in which several candidates are offering various flavors of Trumpism. The front-runner in the race so far, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, has highlighted moments in which opponents have been out of step with Mr. Trump while promoting himself as the contest’s rightful heir to Trumpism.
In an interview, Mr. Mandel said he believed the former president received more votes than Mr. Biden in the 2020 election but wouldn’t say whether Senate Republicans should remove Mr. McConnell.
“I don’t understand your question—is there someone running against him?” Mr. Mandel said. “I’m not going to entertain hypothetical situations that don’t even exist in reality.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), one of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers, said Mr. McConnell was indispensable to Mr. Trump’s legislative accomplishments. But he added that it was unlikely the former president would cease his attacks.
Asked whether he had given Mr. Trump any advice on his feud with Mr. McConnell, Mr. Graham said, “Yeah, ‘Let’s focus on winning in 2022.’”
Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg Needs More Time For Defense, Lawyer Says
Attorneys for Weisselberg point to millions of documents they need to review.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization’s finance chief asked a judge for more time to prepare their defense, saying that they were reviewing millions of pages of documents and that prosecutors may file charges against other people.
“We have strong reasons to believe there could be other indictments coming,” Bryan Skarlatos, a lawyer for Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, told New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan on Monday. “We are shooting at a moving target.”
Justice Merchan, the judge overseeing the proceedings, told the lawyers to clear their calendars for a potential trial in late August or early September of next year. Prosecutors didn’t respond in court to Mr. Skarlatos’s comment about more indictments.
Monday marked the first public court proceeding since former President Donald Trump’s company and Mr. Weisselberg were indicted earlier this summer.
In July, the Manhattan district attorney’s office unveiled an indictment charging Mr. Weisselberg, 74 years old, and his longtime employer with tax fraud and other crimes. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James is working with the district attorney’s office on the case.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of a 15-year-long scheme to avoid paying taxes. The Trump Organization provided some employees with apartments, cars and cash payments, without appropriately paying taxes on them, prosecutors said. Those perks amounted to secret pay raises at the expense of taxpayers, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Weisselberg faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, grand larceny in the second degree.
Both Mr. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty. A Trump Organization lawyer has called the case unprecedented and said compensation cases are typically resolved by civil authorities. Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers said Monday that the indictment was full of unsupported and flawed factual and legal assertions regarding their client.
In court on Monday, Mr. Weisselberg sat at the defense table between his lawyers, with clear plastic barriers separating each person. Since Mr. Weisselberg’s indictment, his defense team has received more than six million pages of documents from prosecutors, which they need additional time to review, his lawyers said.
Justice Merchan gave each side four months to file legal arguments. The defense’s motions are due by Jan. 20, the judge said. The next public court date is in July 2022.
In court, Mr. Skarlatos sought to distance his client from the Trump Organization. “He’s the only individual here today whose liberty is at stake,” the lawyer said. “What I’m concerned about is he becomes collateral damage as part of a bigger fight between the Trump Organization and the district attorney’s office.”
Prosecutors said that Mr. Weisselberg wasn’t an innocent bystander. “He’s an executive who stands accused by a grand jury of multiple felonies,” said Assistant District Attorney Solomon Shinerock, urging the court not to unnecessarily delay the case. Mr. Shinerock said that because Mr. Weisselberg served as the finance chief of the company, he knew what was in many documents.
Mr. Trump wasn’t charged in the case, although the district attorney’s office has previously said that “the former CEO signed himself many of the illegal compensation checks.” Ron Fischetti, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said Monday that he hadn’t heard from the district attorney’s office in months. “He can’t live with another year being under investigation,” Mr. Fischetti said of Mr. Trump, noting the judge’s proposed trial schedule.
Prosecutors continued investigating after the indictment. They have recently focused on Matthew Calamari, the former president’s onetime bodyguard who rose to be chief operating officer of the Trump Organization, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Calamari and his son, Matthew Calamari Jr., have lived in Trump Organization apartments, and the elder Mr. Calamari has driven a company car.
Earlier this month, the younger Mr. Calamari testified before a grand jury that continues to investigate Mr. Trump’s business affairs, according to people familiar with the matter. In New York, people who appear before a state grand jury receive immunity, an indication that prosecutors don’t intend to charge him.
Jeff McConney, a senior finance executive, also testified, the people said. Mr. McConney prepared the personal tax returns of Mr. Calamari, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. Mr. McConney is an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment, prosecutors said in court documents.
A lawyer for the Calamaris, Nicholas Gravante Jr., has denied wrongdoing by his clients and has said they would testify truthfully if subpoenaed to do so.
Donald Trump Sues Mary Trump, New York Times And Reporters Over 2018 Article
Lawsuit accuses former president’s niece and three reporters of plotting to get confidential tax information.
Former President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against Mary Trump, the New York Times and several Times reporters, accusing the defendants of plotting with his niece to expose confidential tax information.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York state court in Dutchess County, accuses the reporters— David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner —of relentlessly seeking out Ms. Trump and persuading her to smuggle the documents out of her former attorney’s office. Ms. Craig went to Ms. Trump’s home and asked her to obtain confidential tax documents from the office, giving her a “burner” phone to communicate, according to the lawsuit.
“The defendants engaged in an insidious plot to obtain confidential and highly-sensitive records which they exploited for their own benefit and utilized as a means of falsely legitimizing their publicized works,” the lawsuit says.
Ms. Craig wrote on Twitter: “I knocked on Mary Trump’s door. She opened it. I think they call that journalism.”
The documents in question were confidential due to a settlement agreement related to the estate of Fred Trump, Mr. Trump’s father, who died in 1999, according to the suit.
In 2018, the Times published an article by the three reporters, based on what it said were confidential tax documents, that said Mr. Trump had received today’s equivalent of more than $400 million from his father’s real-estate business through tax practices that included instances of fraud. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for the reporting. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The former president’s suit alleges breach of contract by Ms. Trump. It claims that the three reporters wrongly interfered with the contract and benefited from the article’s publication.
A spokeswoman for the New York Times called the lawsuit an attempt to silence an independent news organization. “The Times’s coverage of Donald Trump’s taxes helped inform citizens through meticulous reporting on a subject of overriding public interest,” the spokeswoman said.
Theodore Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Ms. Trump, said the suit would fail. “This is the latest in a long line of frivolous lawsuits by Donald Trump that target truthful speech and important journalism on issues of public concern,” he said in a statement.
Ms. Trump said in her 2020 book, “Too Much and Never Enough,” that she provided tax documents to the reporters.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said Ms. Trump and the New York Times “disregarded contractual and court-ordered restrictions in a fervent desire to shamelessly profit through a series of intentionally deceptive and unlawful acts and statements.”
The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $100 million.
The suit comes as Mr. Trump’s longtime company faces an indictment accusing it of tax fraud and other charges. The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have both pleaded not guilty. The judge overseeing those proceedings said this week that the case could go to trial in August or September of next year.
Jan. 6 Committee Issues Subpoenas To Four Former Trump Officials
Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, Dan Scavino and Kashyap Patel subpoenaed by House committee investigating assault on U.S. Capitol.
The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas to four Trump administration officials, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, seeking to compel them to turn over records and sit for depositions in connection with the events surrounding the attack.
The subpoenas were also sent to Steve Bannon, a longtime adviser to former President Donald Trump ; Dan Scavino, former White House deputy chief of staff; and Kashyap Patel, who was chief of staff to the acting Defense secretary at the end of the Trump administration. Mr. Patel once served on Mr. Trump’s National Security Council.
The committee’s letters that accompany the subpoenas focus primarily on Jan. 6 and the day before, seeking to hear from Mr. Meadows on the grounds that he could serve as a witness because “it appears you were with or in the vicinity of President Trump on Jan. 6.”
The panel also seeks to hear from Mr. Bannon because of a report in the new book “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, that he met with lawmakers at a hotel on Jan. 5 to persuade them to block the certification of the presidential election, and to hear from Mr. Scavino.
The committee says reporting indicates that Mr. Scavino was with Mr. Trump as the president considered how to persuade Congress not to certify the election for President Biden.
The subpoenas request documents by Oct. 7 and ask each of the former Trump officials to sit for depositions on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15.
Messrs. Meadows, Bannon, Scavino and Patel couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In a statement, Mr. Trump said, “We will fight the subpoenas on executive privilege and other grounds, for the good of our country.” He added, “We wait to find out whether or not subpoenas will be sent out to antifa and BLM for the death and destruction they have caused in tearing apart our Democrat-run cities throughout America.” Antifa is a loosely organized far-left group. BLM is shorthand for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mr. Trump was impeached by the House in January on a charge of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when his supporters overran the Capitol during a special joint session of Congress and temporarily halted the ratification of Mr. Biden’s Electoral College win. Mr. Trump was acquitted by the Senate in February.
One of the committee’s chief questions is what Mr. Trump did in the hours between exhorting his supporters at a rally on the Ellipse to march on the Capitol and later telling them that while the election was stolen, they had to go home.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Mr. Biden “has already concluded that it wouldn’t be appropriate to assert executive privilege” over documents the committee is seeking from the Trump-era White House, and that the Biden administration would respond promptly to the panel’s requests.
The committee has already received thousands of pages of documents in response to their initial requests for records from eight federal agencies and 15 social media companies, a spokesman for the committee has previously said.
Among the agency records requested were executive branch records related to planning for Jan. 6 and the rallies leading up to it. The committee has also requested records from the Department of Defense, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Late last month, the committee also asked 35 companies to preserve records which may be relevant to the committee’s investigation. The requests went to companies including Verizon Wireless, Facebook, AT&T, Parler and Rumble. Among other things, the panel sought records related to certain individuals who held accounts during the period from April 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021. The list of individuals wasn’t made public.
More than 600 people have been charged in the Capitol riot. Of those, at least 50 have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Only six have had their cases adjudicated and been sentenced.
Sympathizers depict them as victims of state coercion rather than lawbreakers.
In subpoenaing the four former officials, lawmakers say they hope to have more cooperation than in previous investigations of Mr. Trump, when their efforts to obtain documents and witness testimony were entangled in years of litigation. A 2019 effort by the House Oversight Committee to obtain Mr. Trump’s financial and tax records is tied up in the courts.
It took two years for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in a Democratic-led probe into whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice; he appeared only after striking a deal that limited his testimony.
“There will still be opportunities to try to draw things out,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), a member of the Jan. 6 committee, told reporters Thursday at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor. “But we may have additional tools now that we didn’t before, including a Justice Department that may be willing to pursue criminal contempt when people deliberately flout a compulsory process.”
The select committee, which is led by Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D., Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), was established by House lawmakers in June in a 222-190 vote. It is tasked with investigating the circumstances of the Jan. 6 riot and its causes, including activities of intelligence agencies, law-enforcement agencies, and the Armed Forces, as well as how online platforms may have factored into the attack. It is mandated to issue a final report, but faces no set deadline.
Trump Probe by Vance Has Collected Millions of Internal Records
New York City prosecutors investigating Donald Trump said they’ve amassed millions of records from his accounting firm and from a range of banks and real estate companies that did business with the Trump Organization.
In a court filing Friday, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. disclosed a summary of the material collected so far in the investigation. It didn’t provide the actual documents, but included a broad overview of what prosecutors have gathered in their two-year inquiry, as well as some of the witnesses who gave testimony.
While much of the material is already familiar from Vance’s indictment of the Trump Organization and its former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, the filing indicated prosecutors have made at least two agreements with witnesses connected to the Trump Organization to provide information in the case, in exchange for a government promise not to use it against them.
Prosecutors also revealed compliance with subpoenas issued to Jeff McConney, a subordinate to Weisselberg, and Keith Davidson, a California lawyer who was involved in 2016 hush money payments made to silence women claiming to have had affairs with Trump.
Also included in the filing were indications the government has documents it marked as “Martabano.” Charles Martabano represented the Trump Organization in its dealings with a property in Westchester County called Seven Springs, which has been a focus of Attorney General Letitia James’ parallel inquiry into Trump’s tax filings.
The court filing also shows that Vance’s office has reviewed records from multiple banks, law firms and accounting firms, internal Trump Organization records, as well as evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and FinCEN, the U.S. Treasury unit that monitors suspicious financial transactions.
The disclosure came days after a lawyer for Weisselberg complained to the judge that his client was being overwhelmed with the trove of evidence that prosecutors had collected in the case. The lawyer said that, as of Sept. 20, he’d received at least six million pages of evidence that been turned over by lawyers with the district attorney and the New York Attorney General’s office.
Trump Seeks Reinstatement of Twitter Account In Court Filing
Former President Donald Trump asked a federal judge to force Twitter to temporarily reinstate his account while he sues to permanently return to the social media network.
Trump’s request for a preliminary injunction against Twitter was filed late Friday in Miami, Florida. The Republican, who lost his bid for a second term in office, claims Twitter canceled his account in January under pressure from his political rivals in Congress.
Twitter declined to comment on the filing.
Trump had more than 88 million followers on Twitter. The company kicked him off its platform on Jan. 8, two days after a mob of his supporters carried out a deadly attack on the Capitol to prevent President Joe Biden’s victory from being confirmed by Congress. Trump used Twitter and other social media platforms to falsely and repeatedly claim that the election had been rigged.
Twitter “exercises a degree of power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented, and profoundly dangerous to open democratic debate,” the former president’s lawyers said in the filing.
Trump also claims Twitter improperly censored him during his presidency by labeling his tweets as “misleading information” or indicating they violated the company’s rules against “glorifying violence.”
Numerous lawsuits filed by Trump and his supporters seeking to overturn the election result failed across the country due to a lack of evidence of mass voter fraud. Trump’s own attorney general at the time, Bill Barr, and U.S. intelligence agencies agreed with state election officials that any fraud in the election wouldn’t have changed the results.
Trump also accused Twitter of inconsistently applying rules for posts about Covid-19, claiming news organizations had falsely claimed that social-justice protests in 2020 weren’t sources of infection while the attack on the Capitol was.
“This outright inconsistency is in line with a desire by defendant to placate government actors who generally approved of the protests of the summer of 2020” and “generally disapproved of the events of January 6,” Trump said.
Trump didn’t mention those protesting against police abuse often wore masks while almost none were seen among the rioters at the Capitol.
Trump D.C. Hotel Lost $70 Million In Term Despite Foreign Cash
* Hotel Got $3.75 Million From Foreign Governments, Letter Says
* Trump Is Worth $2.5 Billion On Bloomberg Billionaires Index
Donald Trump’s Washington hotel lost more than $70 million during his time in the White House, despite receiving millions in payments from foreign governments, according to federal documents released Friday.
The documents “raise new and troubling questions about former President Trump’s lease,” which was managed by the General Services Administration, according to a letter from the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Trump’s International Hotel in Washington received about $3.75 million in payments from foreign governments and benefited from terms that allowed Trump to defer payments for six years on the principal of a $170 million loan from Deutsche Bank AG, according to documents the committee made public Friday.
The Trump Organization described the report as “intentionally misleading, irresponsible and unequivocally false.” Daniel Hunter, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank AG, also took issue with the committee’s letter, saying it “makes several inaccurate statements” about the bank and its loan agreement
Eric Trump, executive vice president of the company, added in a phone interview that the money the hotel received from foreign governments was donated to the U.S. Treasury Department every year. He also said the $70 million loss figure is misleading because it includes depreciation — “a non-cash accounting principal that has nothing to do with the performance of an asset.” The documents released Friday show depreciation totaled more than $32 million during the period.
The committee, chaired by Democrat Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, has been investigating the lease for five years. Representative Gerald Connolly, chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, also signed the letter.
Eric Trump declined to comment on whether the company has found a buyer for the hotel, which was first put on the market in 2019 for $500 million. Eric Trump said “interest in the property is unbelievable.”
The Trump Organization has said it attracted bids north of $350 million that the company rejected. Those who’ve gone public with their offers have cited much lower figures. Brian Friedman, a D.C. real estate investor, said he offered around $160 million.
Trump himself admitted in 2012 that he paid too much for the property — a promised $200 million to renovate the historic Old Post Office and $3 million in annual base rent.
The broker handling the sale, Jones Lang LaSalle, quit in January after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, just one mile to the east. Back on the market, the sale is now being led by Newmark.
The D.C. hotel is one piece of Trump’s complicated portfolio of properties, which largely suffered during his presidency, in part because of the pandemic that kept people from going into the office and traveling to hotels. Trump’s net worth is $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, down from about $3 billion when he entered office.
Trump Iowa Visit Tests Appetite For Another Presidential Bid
Former Republican president to hold rally in state that traditionally starts nomination race.
Former President Donald Trump is taking his most affirmative step yet toward a possible 2024 campaign by returning to a crucial state on the nominating calendar for the first time since his presidency, even as Republicans there express mixed feelings about him running again.
Mr. Trump will host a rally Saturday evening in Iowa, the state that traditionally launches the nomination process. His event on the state fairgrounds in Des Moines is likely to stoke speculation about his previously stated interest in trying to win back the White House and follows his hiring of two operatives in the state to work for his political-action committee.
Iowa Republican activists express varied views when asked how much support Mr. Trump would likely receive in the state for a third White House campaign.
“My preference is that Donald Trump has a role in the direction of our country and party and some influence over candidates, but I think it would be best for someone else to become the standard-bearer,” said Mark Lundberg, a financial adviser and former Republican chairman in northwest Iowa’s Sioux County, one of the most conservative areas in the state.
Rich Schwarm, a former Iowa state GOP chairman, said there is strong support among the Republican voters there for Mr. Trump’s policies. There are, however, mixed feelings about “whether he is the strongest messenger” for the party. “I think he would be the front-runner here if he were to run,” he said.
Mr. Trump is “keeping all options open,” a spokeswoman said.
There is no question Mr. Trump, 75 years old, remains the dominant figure in the GOP. His post-White House events have attracted big crowds, candidates in heavily Republican areas covet his endorsements and his fundraising since November has proven prodigious.
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released earlier this week showed Mr. Trump now has higher favorability ratings in the key state than he did as president, with 53% of Iowans—including 91% of Republicans—viewing him positively. The state’s most respected political survey didn’t ask Republicans whether they would like to see him run again.
The findings of a national poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released this week showed 44% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents want Mr. Trump to run for the White House again, while 32% say they would like him to no longer be a major national political figure. Another 22% say they would like him to remain a major figure in politics, but would prefer he support another candidate who shares his views rather than run himself.
Mr. Trump, who carried Iowa last November by more than 8 percentage points, has long understood the political importance of the state, where neighborhood gatherings called caucuses have kicked off the presidential nomination race for close to five decades.
He finished a close second in the 2016 caucuses behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. If Mr. Trump moves forward with a 2024 campaign, some GOP activists in the state say he wouldn’t be assured an easy win in the caucuses.
“I don’t see an immediate coronation,” said Mary Kramer, a Republican activist and former state senator whom President George W. Bush appointed ambassador to the eastern Caribbean. “Even people who have strongly supported him view him as pretty divisive.”
In a show of his interest in Iowa, Mr. Trump in August hired two political operatives in the state—Eric Branstad and Alex Latcham—as advisers for his Save America political-action committee.
Mr. Branstad helped Trump in his 2016 and 2020 campaigns in the state and is the son of former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as Mr. Trump’s ambassador to China. Mr. Latcham, who worked for the Trump campaigns and White House, previously helped Iowa presidential efforts for Mitt Romney and has worked for the state party.
Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa chairman, said Mr. Trump was completely focused on next year’s midterm election—including potentially competitive House races in the state—when the two men spoke by phone in August.
“He never brought up him running for the presidency,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “He very clearly understands that potentially the road to the majority in the federal House of Representatives goes through Iowa and he wants to definitely be a part of that.”
Mr. Kaufmann said Mr. Trump would start from a strong position in the state, but would still be expected to campaign extensively there. “Even somebody that’s getting a 91% approval rating has to make their case for running for the presidency,” he said.
Other possible 2024 GOP candidates also have been making trips to the state this year, including three from Mr. Trump’s administration: former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas also has visited this year, as has South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
“By the time we get to 2022, we’re gonna probably have somewhere between 12 and 15 potential candidates through here,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “The activity level here for the first year in a four-year cycle has definitely been stronger than any that we’ve had before.”
One piece of business Mr. Trump might conduct from the stage would be the endorsement of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.
The 88-year-old said late last month that he plans to run for an eighth term, a decision that boosted GOP prospects of holding the seat and potentially gaining control of the chamber in 2022.
Messrs. Trump and Grassley have generally had a cordial relationship, although Iowa’s senior senator was critical of the then-president for his role in an attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of his supporters.
While the Democratic National Committee is considering altering the order of its nomination calendar, Republicans have shown no signs of changing a schedule that is traditionally had Iowa’s caucuses first and New Hampshire’s primary second.
Trump Close To A Deal To Sell Marquee Washington, D.C., Hotel
Miami-based CGI Merchant Group in talks to pay ex-president’s family company around $370 million for property in former Old Post Office.
Former President Donald Trump’s family company is in advanced discussions to sell the rights to its opulent Washington, D.C., hotel in a deal worth more than $370 million, say people familiar with the matter.
CGI Merchant Group, a Miami-based investment firm, is in talks to acquire the lease on the hotel, these people said. The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., is located in the former Old Post Office, a short walk down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in a building featuring some of the largest guest rooms in the capital.
The property is owned by the federal government, but with extensions the lease runs close to 100 years. CGI has also entered into discussions with hotel operators, including Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.’s Waldorf Astoria luxury brand, about removing the Trump name in favor of that of another hotel manager, these people said.
The lease deal could ultimately fetch closer to $400 million, which would represent roughly a doubling of the money the Trump Organization spent to convert the government building into a luxury hotel, said one of the people familiar with the matter.
The hotel sales talks have been heating up as Democratic-controlled House committees have been investigating and holding hearings on potential conflicts of interest and emoluments issues surrounding Mr. Trump.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has been examining the lease terms between the Trump Organization and the federal government’s General Services Administration for use of the Old Post Office. The deal predates Mr. Trump’s entry into national politics, but the committee is probing how well Mr. Trump managed conflicts of interest while president.
A Friday report from the House committee said the hotel lost more than $70 million between its opening in 2016 and last year, leading the company to inject at least $24 million in aid.
The Trumps have disputed those findings, though their government filings show a slowdown in business. The hotel generated about $150 million in revenue over four years, according to Mr. Trump’s financial disclosures while president. His most recent disclosure, which covered all of 2020 and the first few weeks of 2021, showed the hotel’s revenue fell to $15 million, compared with $40 million in 2019.
The Washington, D.C., hotel has been a jewel in the Trump family portfolio. In 2012, the Trumps beat out some of the most experienced and deepest-pocketed names in the lodging business, including Marriott International Inc. and Hilton, for the rights to the lease.
The family’s pledge to spend about $200 million renovating and converting the 19th century post office into a modern luxury hotel was the highest offer, say people familiar with the matter.
About two years ago, the Trumps decided to test the sales market for the hotel’s lease. The family initially hoped it could sell the lease for close to $500 million, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal at the time.
During the Trump years in the White House, the hotel became something of a Republican clubhouse, attracting fans, lobbyists, lawmakers and others with business before the Trump administration.
That business has fallen off since he left the White House, but hotel analysts suggest that the hotel’s prime location and 19th century architecture make it a unique destination.
“It’s an older building that has undergone extensive renovations, but it has design characteristics and architectural detail you can’t replicate today,” said Sean Hennessey, chief executive of Lodging Advisors, a New York hospitality consulting firm. “If it becomes affiliated with a luxury brand, that brand can create a new identity for the property.”
CGI Merchant Group was among roughly a dozen firms to express interest in the property, according to a person familiar with the matter, including pension funds, foreign government funds and high net-worth individuals.
The GSA, which manages the government’s real estate holdings, would be involved in the approval process for any sale of the lease, according to its contract with the Trump Organization.
The Miami-based CGI is part of a new breed of investors focusing on more socially conscious investing. The firm has pledged that properties in its Conscious Certified Hotels collection, which includes the Gabriel and Celino South Beach in Miami Beach, will donate 1% of all room revenue to local nonprofit organizations, according to the company’s website.
CGI founder and Chief Executive Raoul Thomas has donated to political causes, including more than $72,000 to President Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party during the 2020 election, fundraising records show. More recently, Mr. Thomas contributed $25,000 to the campaign committee of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, state records show.
Trump Ordered To Testify Monday In Lawsuit By 2015 Protesters
Former President Donald Trump was ordered to give testimony Monday in a lawsuit by human-rights activists who claim his security guards assaulted them during a 2015 protest outside New York’s Trump Tower.
New York state court Justice Doris M. Gonzalez in the Bronx ordered Trump to submit to a video deposition at 10 a.m. on Oct. 18.
Amy D. Carlin, Trump’s lawyer in the case, did not immediately respond to an e-mail and a voicemail seeking comment on the order.
The plaintiffs claim Trump’s guards attacked them in September 2015 while they were demonstrating against his remarks about Mexican immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump announced his presidential bid three months earlier with a speech decrying the influx of Mexican “rapists” and drug smugglers into the U.S.
Gonzalez ordered Trump in 2019 to sit for a deposition in the case, but the then-president argued he could not be compelled to testify. An appeals court in April threw out the challenge as moot because Trump was no longer president, and Gonzalez in July rejected his bid to quash the subpoenas seeking his testimony.
The case is Galicia v. Trump, 24973/2015E, Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Bronx.
Donald Trump Sues To Prevent Records From Being Disclosed To Jan. 6 Committee
Former president targets House committee and National Archives, calling request for release of White House documents illegal.
Former President Donald Trump filed suit Monday to block records from his time in the White House from being turned over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., an attorney representing the former president asked a federal judge to stop the National Archives from turning over records from Mr. Trump’s time in office to Capitol Hill investigators, alleging that the requests were improper and the documents contained privileged material.
“The Committee’s request amounts to nothing less than a vexatious, illegal fishing expedition openly endorsed by Biden and designed to unconstitutionally investigate President Trump and his administration. Our laws do not permit such an impulsive, egregious action against a former President and his close advisors,” the lawsuit says.
The House select committee, led by Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) was established by House lawmakers in a June vote almost entirely along party lines after Senate Republicans blocked an earlier effort to set up a bipartisan independent commission.
The House panel is tasked with investigating the causes and circumstances of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when a mob of Trump supporters overwhelmed police and surged into the building, temporarily interrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. The select committee is largely composed of Democrats, plus two Republicans who have been critical of Mr. Trump.
As part of the committee’s probe, the panel requested access to an array of White House records from on or around Jan 6. The National Archives had planned to deliver those records to the committee on Nov. 12, after the Biden administration said there was no reason to invoke executive privilege to shield the records.
The committee asked the National Archives for detailed records on what Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House were doing on the day of the assault.
It has also asked for internal White House records on visitors, communications, public statements and social-media accounts related to the attack, along with records concerning Mr. Trump’s unsuccessful and unfounded attempts to stop the certification of the 2020 election.
Mr. Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s lawsuit was an attempt to delay and obstruct the committee’s probe. “Precedent and law are on our side,” they said, adding that the committee would fight the lawsuit while continuing its investigation.
The lawsuit names the committee, the National Archives, Mr. Thompson and Archivist David Ferriero as defendants.
Official records from Mr. Trump’s time in office are public property. Under the Presidential Records Act, the main law governing records from a president’s time in office, they are transferred to the custody of the National Archives, where they are cataloged and organized for potential future public release. The law contains special provisions for Congress and other government agencies to access the records, if necessary.
The public typically begins to gain access to the records five years after the end of an administration. Presidents can invoke exceptions to keep some records shielded from public release for up to 12 years after the end of an administration. Certain records related to national security can be withheld for longer.
Typically, the decision to withhold documents on the grounds of executive privilege belongs to the current occupant of the White House, not the former one. However, in a 1977 decision, the Supreme Court recognized that a former president had some ability to make executive privilege claims after leaving office but left unclear the extent of that power.
Mr. Trump’s lawsuit could spark a lengthy legal battle over the records—much as lawsuits filed by his lawyers during his administration delayed numerous congressional probes while he was still in office. Two cases over access to Mr. Trump’s records went to the Supreme Court, including one that dealt with the ability of Congress to get access to documents in conducting investigations.
The courts rejected arguments from Mr. Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department under his administration stating that a president has immunities and privileges that put him completely beyond the reach of authorities seeking his documents or testimony. But they also limited Congress’s reach in some cases and inserted the federal courts much more directly in mediating disputes between presidents and Congress.
Steve Bannon, a former aide to Mr. Trump, has also said he planned to fight a subpoena for documents and testimony. The committee is planning to vote on whether to hold Mr. Bannon in criminal contempt for defying the order, referring the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The department hasn’t said how it would act on such a referral.
The committee is expected to vote Tuesday night on a resolution that recommends the House of Representatives hold Mr. Bannon in contempt of Congress. That would set up a vote before the full House.
A report that includes the resolution was released by the committee Monday. It recommends citing Mr. Bannon for contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a Sept. 23 subpoena for testimony and documents related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“According to many published reports, and his own public statements, Stephen K. Bannon had specific knowledge about the events planned for January 6th before they occurred,” the report alleges. It points to Mr. Bannon’s Jan. 5 podcast on which he tells his audience: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. [. . .] So many people said, ‘Man, if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history.”
The committee report also counters arguments made by Mr. Bannon’s attorney, Robert J. Costello, who has said Mr. Bannon couldn’t respond to the committee’s subpoena because of executive privilege asserted by former President Trump.
“No colorable claim of executive privilege could possibly be made with respect to documents or testimony related to these and other matters sought by the subpoena, or any other topics that were not connected to official decisionmaking by the President,” the committee report says.
Donald Trump Deposed In Lawsuit Over Alleged Attacks On Protesters
The questioning marked the first known time the former president has been questioned under oath for a lawsuit since he left the White House.
Donald Trump testified under oath Monday for a 2015 lawsuit filed by protesters who accused the then-presidential candidate’s security guards of assault, marking the first time the former president is known to have been deposed since leaving the White House.
Benjamin Dictor, a lawyer for the protesters, said Mr. Trump sat for about four and half hours and answered questions about events that occurred outside of Trump Tower on Sept. 3, 2015. In the 2015 lawsuit, a group of activists said they were attacked by Mr. Trump’s security guards while protesting against his comments about immigrants on a sidewalk outside Trump Tower.
“While we will not comment on the substance of Mr. Trump’s testimony at this time, we hope today’s events serve as an example that our institutions have prevailed and no one is above the law,” Mr. Dictor said in a statement.
Mr. Trump said in a statement that he “was pleased to have had the opportunity to tell my side of this ridiculous story.” He added, “When security tried to de-escalate the situation, they were unfortunately met with taunts and violence from the plaintiffs themselves.”
The deposition comes after Mr. Trump successfully delayed some legal proceedings during his four years as president, including by arguing that state-court lawsuits against a sitting president must be put on hold or dismissed. Some of those cases are now moving forward.
Typically, the substance of depositions isn’t immediately public, though they sometimes are subsequently filed with the court and can be used during a trial.
The protesters said they sued Mr. Trump, his campaign and his company because they have authority over security personnel, whose actions during the protest were part of their employment. The protesters said they suffered physical and emotional pain, injuries, discomfort and embarrassment.
The protesters, who are of Mexican descent, said they were demonstrating because they were insulted and concerned about the impact of claims Mr. Trump made about Mexicans.
In a 2016 affidavit, Mr. Trump said he had no independent knowledge of the incident. He said he had delegated responsibility for security operations to Matthew Calamari, the Trump Organization’s chief operating officer. A lawyer for Mr. Calamari declined to comment.
Monday was also the deadline for scheduling depositions in a lawsuit filed against Mr. Trump by former “Apprentice” candidate Summer Zervos, who accused Mr. Trump of defaming her by saying her allegations that he groped and kissed her were a hoax. Mr. Trump has said the suit has no merit.
Earlier this month, the judge overseeing that case said all depositions must be completed by Dec. 23.
On Monday, a lawyer for Mr. Trump filed court papers making claims against Ms. Zervos under New York’s updated anti-SLAPP law, which is intended to deter plaintiffs from making frivolous lawsuits.
Moira Penza and Beth Wilkinson, who represent Ms. Zervos, called the claims “a desperate reaction to the court’s order that he and his associates be deposed.”
Mr. Trump also faces a defamation lawsuit filed in 2019 by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleged Mr. Trump lied when he denied raping her in the 1990s. Last year, the Justice Department moved to represent Mr. Trump in the case. A federal judge then ruled that the Justice Department couldn’t represent Mr. Trump because he wasn’t acting in his official capacity as president when he denied the rape allegations.
Mr. Trump appealed that ruling. Earlier this year, the Justice Department under President Biden filed court documents saying that while Mr. Trump’s comments were crude and disrespectful, the legal issues in the case implicated the institutional interests of the federal government.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments on the issue in December.
DWAC, The Trump Social-Media SPAC, Quadruples
Frenzied buying is similar to gains in special-purpose acquisition companies earlier this year.
Investors on Thursday piled into shares of the special-purpose acquisition company taking former President Donald Trump’s new social-media platform public, igniting a buying frenzy reminiscent of the SPAC craze from early this year.
Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp. more than quadrupled to $45.50 in the first trading session following the deal announcement. Trump Media & Technology Group said late Wednesday it would combine with the SPAC and soon launch a new social network called Truth Social. The deal values the Trump media company at about $875 million, including debt.
The unveiling of the new company comes after Mr. Trump’s access to several social-media platforms including Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. was restricted following the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. He held discussions with a number of different platforms throughout the year to find a new online megaphone. Mr. Trump had nearly 89 million followers on Twitter.
Digital World Acquisition and its stock ticker, DWAC, were trending on some social-media platforms Thursday, with traders rushing to buy the shares.
Such sharp share-price increases for companies going public with SPACs were common early this year, when such stocks were popular among day traders. The big gains have become less common in recent months with many companies that go public this way struggling to meet their growth targets.
Also called a blank-check company, a SPAC such as Digital World Acquisition is a shell company that raises money and trades on a stock exchange to merge with a private firm such as Mr. Trump’s and take it public.
The private company then replaces the SPAC in the stock market. SPAC mergers have become popular alternatives to traditional initial public offerings, especially for startups that can make business projections. Those aren’t allowed in typical IPOs.
Still, many stocks that soared after deals were announced or even completed have since tumbled, sticking individual investors with losses while many company insiders are protected through unique incentives.
Many other social-media sites catering to conservatives have emerged in recent years, including Parler, Gab and Gettr, a free-speech-focused platform launched by former Trump adviser Jason Miller earlier this year.
Some of them have struggled to balance their free-speech ambitions with abiding by their technology partners’ terms of service.
Parler, which was founded in 2018, built a big following after the 2020 election, but was stopped in its tracks in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Apple Inc. removed Parler from its app store and cloud-computing giant Amazon Web Services booted it from its servers amid concerns that Parler wasn’t able to effectively moderate threats of violence on its platform. Parler has since returned to Apple’s app Store.
Gab, which was founded in 2016 with the explicit aim of being a haven for free commentary, went offline for more than a week in the fall of 2018 after a man opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue shortly after posting anti-Semitic messages on Gab.
The company was quickly dropped by its web-hosting firm, domain registrar and payment processors. Gab eventually found a new digital home, and said at the time it prohibited calling for acts of violence against others.
Gab said Thursday in a statement that it supports Mr. Trump’s new network and that users can still follow the former president on his reserved Gab account.
Parler didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Saba Capital Dumps Unrestricted SPAC Stock On Trump News
Saba Capital Management quickly sold its entire stake of unrestricted stock in blank-check company Digital World Acquisition Corp. on Thursday after discovering it planned to merge with former President Donald Trump’s new media venture.
“I knew that for Saba the right thing was to sell our entire stake of unrestricted shares, which we have now done,” founder Boaz Weinstein said in an e-mailed statement. “Many investors are grappling with hard questions about how to incorporate their values into their work. For us, this was not a close call.”
Saba has invested in more than 400 SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, according to the statement, which was earlier reported by the New York Times.
Getting out quickly of the unrestricted stock has cost Saba. Digital World soared 357% on Thursday after retail investors piled into the stock. The price doubled on Friday to a record, with an almost 10-fold jump over two days.
Saba is one of a number of hedge funds that bought into Digital World, run by Chief Executive Officer Patrick Orlando, in September. Others include Highbridge Capital Management, Palm Beach, Florida-based Lighthouse Investment Partners and D.E. Shaw & Co., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Lighthouse said it no longer holds unrestricted shares of the SPAC. D.E. Shaw also sold all of its unrestricted shares, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Trump announced late on Wednesday that the deal will enable him to build a new social media presence after Twitter and Facebook banished him from their platforms after the January insurrection at the Capitol.
The new company will be called Truth Media, according to a statement from Trump Media & Technology Group, which said it plans for the new business to be operating by the first quarter, ahead of the 2022 mid-term elections.
Hedge funds have rushed to invest in SPACs in the past couple of years. They have the ability to redeem shares for cash at the time of a merger, which makes the trades relatively low-risk. Warrants given to investors in the initial public offering, coupled with the possibility that the shares will trade above the redemption price, provide upside on the trade.
The funds frequently have little involvement in the management of a SPAC or its choice of a target.
Weinstein’s wife, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, narrowly lost out this year to become the Democratic candidate for the Manhattan district attorney’s race.
DWAC, The Trump Social-Media SPAC, Soars In GameStop-Like Frenzy
Shares of Digital World Acquisition more than doubled to $94.20 Friday after trading as high as $175; have risen nearly tenfold in two days.
Shares of a blank-check company tied to Donald Trump’s online network surged again Friday, implying a valuation of several billion dollars for the new firm following a buying frenzy fueled by individual investors on social media.
Digital World Acquisition Corp. shares more than doubled to $94.20 on Friday after trading as high as $175. Trading in the stock was heavy, prompting a number of brief trading halts.
The shares rose from less than $10 to $45.50 Thursday after the firm announced a deal to combine with a newly formed media company backed by Mr. Trump that plans to launch a Twitter -like platform called Truth Social. The prices of warrants tied to the stock that give investors the right to buy more shares at specific prices in the future have also soared.
The stock’s ticker, DWAC, has been trending on several internet platforms over the past few days. Day traders on platforms like Reddit have posted photos of their quick fortunes, inspiring others to jump on board, some analysts said. Some posts also indicated that individuals wanted to buy the stock to support Mr. Trump’s political movement.
“This is the new hot meme stock,” said Matthew Tuttle, whose firm Tuttle Capital Management runs a few exchange-traded funds tied to special-purpose acquisition companies and the companies they take public. Meme stocks are those that become wildly popular among online traders for reasons other than their business prospects, as GameStop Corp. and others have this year.
Also called a blank-check firm, a SPAC such as Digital World is a shell company that raises money and lists publicly with the goal of merging with a private company such as Mr. Trump’s. The private firm then replaces the SPAC in the stock market.
SPAC mergers have become popular alternatives to traditional initial public offerings and have allowed startups with scant records to list publicly.
The gains for Digital World are unprecedented even for SPACs, which are known for wild share-price swings and exploded in popularity early this year alongside meme stocks.
Among the roughly 115 SPACs that have announced mergers but not yet completed them, Digital World’s stock price is by far the highest, according to data provider SPAC Research. The next-best-performing SPAC in a similar position trades at about $14. Nearly all SPACs begin trading at $10.
The stock surge outpaces gains for companies that have closed SPAC deals and traded publicly for years. Altus Midstream Co. is the best-performing stock that went public via a blank-check firm in SPAC Research’s database and sits at about $70. Sports-betting firm DraftKings Inc., another top performer, trades around $45.
The current Digital World stock price implies a valuation for Mr. Trump’s startup media company in the billions of dollars, several times the announced valuation of $875 million, a figure that isn’t strictly comparable because it includes debt.
“It’s a level of speculation that I once thought unfathomable,” said Julian Klymochko, who manages a SPAC-focused fund at Accelerate Financial Technologies.
Other SPACs that have rocketed higher in the past have later fallen, hurting individual investors who piled in while company insiders are protected through special incentives.
The SPAC that took electric-vehicle maker Lucid Group Inc. public rose to nearly $60 amid rumors of the merger in February. After the deal was publicly announced, shares fell back around $25, where they trade today.
Mobile-gaming firm Skillz Inc. climbed above $40 early this year following the completion of its SPAC deal but has since fallen back to $10. Shares of space-tourism firm Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and several other electric-vehicle startups have also tumbled in recent months.
The sharp declines for companies popular among individual investors have prompted scrutiny among regulators and lawmakers about the SPAC structure and whether it disproportionately benefits insiders and professional investors.
Hedge funds that are large buyers of SPACs when they initially go public often notch outsize gains from moves like the one in the Digital World SPAC. They buy shares at the listing price of $10 or below that level after the shares begin trading publicly. If the stock like Digital World rises after a deal announcement, they are typically quick to sell to lock in a profit.
Even if the stock falls or trades flat, they are protected by the right to withdraw $10 a share plus a tiny bit of interest before SPAC deals are completed.
Such investor withdrawals have skyrocketed in recent months with shares of many SPACs sliding. Several companies that went public this way have struggled to meet the growth targets they made when going public, prompting skepticism among some investors. Such business projections aren’t allowed in traditional IPOs.
The Digital World SPAC is led by Patrick Orlando, a former derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank AG. One of the blank-check company team’s past SPAC deals, a roughly $7 billion deal with energy transportation solutions firm Giga Energy, was terminated in mid-September amid a share-price slump for many SPACs. The combination was announced in May.
Other SPACs have also terminated deals or reduced valuations after investors scrutinized the finances of the mergers.
So far, the Digital World SPAC hasn’t released many concrete financial details about Mr. Trump’s new business. The Digital World SPAC has about $290 million that the social-media venture could use to fund its growth, though investors have the right to pull money out at $10 a share before the deal gets completed.
The current share price makes such withdrawals much less likely because investors would lose money by pulling their money out.
In the coming months, the SPAC will have to publicly release an S-4 regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing the merger. The filing will include the financial information and ownership structure of Mr. Trump’s new venture, Trump Media & Technology Group.
Regulators will then review the documents, before an official shareholder vote on the deal. At that time, Digital World SPAC investors could pull their money out.
If the merger is approved, Trump Media & Technology Group will replace Digital World in the stock market and begin trading under that name.
Trump’s Tech SPAC Could Make Him Billions With Meme-Stock Frenzy
Donald Trump’s sagging fortune is suddenly poised to get a massive boost from meme-stock mania.
News late Wednesday that the former president’s nascent media enterprise, Trump Media & Technology Group, is planning to go public via a special purpose acquisition company has sent retail investors into a frenzy, even with few details released. The stock gain drove the implied value of the new venture to more than $8.2 billion.
Based on figures from press releases and filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission, it appears Trump will own more than 50% of the combined company. At its current value, that would make him the richest he’s ever been, up from his estimated net worth now of $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
In the roller-coaster world of Reddit-fueled trading and grandiose SPAC hype, those gains are hardly firm. But the money betting on a Trump media conglomerate marks a sharp turnaround for a post-presidency that hasn’t been kind to the billionaire’s business empire.
His Washington hotel, which was first put on the market in 2019, is still for sale, while the flagship midtown Manhattan tower that bears his name has growing vacancies. This summer, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization was charged with tax fraud.
Trump’s net worth has declined by about $500 million since he entered the White House, with the pandemic and fallout from January’s Capitol riot delivering added blows to his business interests.
Now comes the arrival of the social-media outlet that Trump, the leader in polls for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, has been teasing at for some time. There are many reasons to be skeptical of the valuation.
It will be months before the new venture publicly releases its first product, a social-media platform called Truth Social. And there are already technical issues. On Thursday, the Truth Social page was hacked to make it appear that Trump shared a photo of a defecating pig.
It’s also unclear how Trump plans to build a social-media platform on the scale of Twitter over the next few months, let alone a streaming service, which is the next phase of Trump Media’s plans, according to the press release announcing the company. That statement was light on numbers even by SPAC standards.
“We have no financials. We have no business plan. We don’t know how they got to the valuation. We have no information,” said Kristi Marvin, chief executive of research firm SPAC Insider. “That’s the fundamental problem.”
Representatives for Trump and Trump Media didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The business has ambitious plans that also include a potential “tech stack” to compete with Amazon.com Inc.’s AWS and Google’s Cloud, among others, according to a presentation on Trump Media’s website.
As of now, Digital World’s board is light on members with media experience. Its chief executive officer, Patrick Orlando, is a former Deutsche Bank AG derivatives trader who co-founded a sugar-trading company and started a banking firm, Benessere Capital, before more recently embracing SPACs.
So far, retail investors have little concern. Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp., the shell company merging with Trump’s new venture to take it public, closed Friday at $94.20 — up from $9.96 before the deal was announced Wednesday. It’s also an increase of more than 800% from a $10 offering price that’s typically used in a SPAC merger agreement.
The press release said the new company would have an initial enterprise value of $875 million. Assuming that calculation used a $10 a share offering price and the $293 million Digital World has in trust, the SPAC’s owners will get about 42% of the combined company after accounting for shares the sponsor receives if a deal gets done.
That leaves 58% for Trump and any partners he has in Trump Media. That stake is worth nearly $4.8 billion, based on Digital World’s last price. The whole enterprise is being valued by the market at about $8.2 billion, compared with Twitter Inc.’s almost $50 billion equity valuation.
With the new media company’s valuation dwarfing the $875 million enterprise value agreed to by Trump, he may have been able to negotiate a sweeter deal. Terms of the agreement will need to be more fully disclosed and could still change before an agreement gets voted on by shareholders, an event that is probably months away.
Most of Trump’s current wealth is tied to the Trump Organization, a sprawling real estate business that has been hurt by the pandemic and legal troubles. There’s also at least $590 million in debt coming due in the next four years linked to the company’s properties, more than half of which is personally guaranteed by Trump.
In April, the company scored a win when its partner in two skycrapers, Vornado Realty Trust, refinanced debt tied to its San Francisco tower, bringing $617 million to its owners. The Trump Organization also appears to be closing in on a sale of Washington’s Trump International Hotel, which was a hotspot for political allies, lobbyists and conservative media figures during his administration.
“We are one of the most under-leveraged real estate companies in the country relative to our assets,” Trump’s son Eric Trump said at the time of the Vornado deal. On paper, he and his brother Donald Trump Jr. have been leading the Trump Organization. Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg stepped down from his various roles after his indictment. The company was also charged with 15 felony counts in New York.
Trump hasn’t signaled that he’ll return to the Trump Organization. His focus now is on dominating the Republican party and his new media project, which would give him an avenue to connect with supporters and raise money after he was banned from Facebook and Twitter. That would be key if he chooses to seek a second term in 2024.
When Trump first ran for president, he claimed to have a fortune of $10 billion. Now the retail trading frenzy may bring him somewhat closer to getting there.
Trump-Linked SPAC Falls As Retail Trading Frenzy Loses Steam
The euphoria surrounding shares in Digital World Acquisition Corp., the SPAC tied to former President Donald Trump, is showing signs of fizzling out.
Shares of the special purpose acquisition company fell for a second day on Tuesday after skyrocketing as much as 1,225% last week, as retail traders shifted their focus to other corners of the stock market. Digital World, which is set to merge with Trump’s new social media platform, Trump Media & Technology Group, declined 30% to $59.07. It fell nearly 11% on Monday.
Digital World was still trending on trader chatroom Stocktwits and was among the most mentioned tickers across Reddit’s WallStreetBets. It was also among the most actively traded assets on Fidelity’s platform in Tuesday’s session, but sell orders balanced the number of buys.
In contrast, investors favored Bakkt Holdings Inc., the digital asset marketplace, as well as tech heavyweights Tesla Inc. and Facebook Inc.
The two-day decline also came after short-seller Iceberg Research warned of risks for investors and said “Trump will renegotiate at the expense of DWAC retail holders.” Shares of the blank-check company have lost roughly two-thirds of their value from an Oct. 22 peak of $175.
New Manhattan Prosecutor Will Inherit Decision to Take On Trump
Vance Likely To Decide On Charging Ex-President By Year-End
Alvin Bragg Will Be The 4Th Manhattan D.A. In Past 80 Years
Alvin Bragg’s election as the next Manhattan District Attorney puts him in control of the most significant criminal investigation of Donald Trump, but a decision on whether or not to charge the former president himself will likely be made by his predecessor.
Bragg, 48, on Tuesday became only the fourth elected leader of the office in the past 80 years. He will be sworn in on Jan. 1, replacing Cyrus Vance, who decided not to seek a fourth term in office.
In his remaining weeks on the job, Vance, 67, intends to make a decision on whether to charge Trump with a crime, according to people familiar with his thinking, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information. Vance told the Financial Times in September that his “goal is to complete decisions about charging before I leave.”
rimes associated with untaxed benefits that Weisselberg received, including the use of luxury cars and apartments. In coming weeks, Vance’s office could file similar charges against others who received the same types of perks that Weisselberg got, according to the people close to the matter. The former president has not been charged.
Charging a former president with a crime would be unprecedented and have far-reaching effects. It would also inevitably play into the 2022 and 2024 elections. Trump has not yet said whether he will run again for the presidency in 2024.
Spokespeople for Vance and Bragg declined to comment. A Trump spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment, and a lawyer for the president declined to comment.
‘Nothing To Lose’
“If you look at this from a distance, Vance has nothing to lose by charging Trump if he’s got enough evidence,” said E. Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor. “But he’s circumspect, and will listen to the seasoned lawyers he’s surrounded himself with.”
Bragg and Vance met at least once since June, people familiar said, after Bragg won the Democratic primary and became the presumptive heir to the office. Bragg, who spent last week representing Eric Garner’s family in an inquiry about his 2014 death at the hands of police, is expected to make his first visit to the office as its designated next occupant within days, the people said.
Vance’s team will brief Bragg and his senior advisers on issues ranging from how the office works to a review of significant cases currently in the pipeline, including the Trump investigation.
Bragg campaigned on reforming the District Attorney’s office, pledging to end “mass incarceration” and investigate police misconduct.
He said little about the Trump case on the campaign trail, other than noting that years earlier he was part of the New York attorney general’s civil suit against Trump’s charitable foundation, which was shut over misuse of funds. He told New York Magazine in July that he planned to keep the District Attorney’s team investigating Trump “intact.”
Bragg views the Trump case as Vance’s responsibility all the way up through Dec. 31, and does not expect to be consulted beforehand on the question of whether the former president should be charged, said a person familiar with his position on the matter.
Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly said the probe is a partisan exercise designed to hurt the former president.
Vance launched the investigation more than two years ago, after Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified that the company routinely low-balled the value of assets in order reduces taxes and insurance rates, while inflating values of the same assets in order to secure bigger bank loans. His quest to obtain Trump’s tax returns went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“You do what’s best for the case,” said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duke University School of Law. “But an elected official like Vance, who’s probably not planning to run again for office, is more legacy-oriented.”
Indictment of Igor Danchenko Casts New Doubts On Sourcing of Steele Dossier
Special counsel John Durham alleges key source lied to FBI about how he collected information about Trump and Russia, getting some of it from Democratic operative
An indictment returned in federal court on Thursday casts doubt on the sources of a series of salacious and largely discredited reports about former President Donald Trump and Russia that the FBI ultimately used in support of a counterintelligence investigation into his 2016 campaign and associates.
A Russia analyst who served as a central source for a dossier of opposition research material about Mr. Trump compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was arrested and charged with lying to the FBI on Thursday, according to an indictment unsealed in Virginia federal court. He appeared before a judge on Thursday and was released on bond.
Russian-born Igor Danchenko was charged with five counts of making false statements to officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the sources of the information he helped compile for Mr. Steele. As part of a counterintelligence probe into whether Mr. Trump or any of his associates had links to Russia, Mr. Danchenko sat for numerous interviews with FBI officials in 2017 as they tried to corroborate allegations made in the dossier.
The 39-page indictment also states that several key pieces of information in the dossier—purportedly a private intelligence product compiled by a retired British MI6 agent with deep ties to Eastern Europe—weren’t collected from Russia but were sourced to chatter and gossip circulating in American political circles.
The charges against Mr. Danchenko stem from the probe by special counsel John Durham, who was tapped by Trump administration Attorney General Bill Barr in 2019 to review decisions made by intelligence officers and law-enforcement officials during the investigation into whether Mr. Trump and his campaign associates received any assistance from Russia during the 2016 campaign.
An FBI attorney who prepared a surveillance application, as well as an attorney who specializes in cybersecurity, have also been indicted by the special counsel’s office on charges of making false statements.
Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based research firm founded by former Wall Street Journal reporters Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, who were initially hired to do research into Mr. Trump by Republicans opposed to Mr. Trump. After Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination, Fusion sought Democratic funding to continue their research.
After winning a contract with a law firm representing the Democratic Party, they hired Mr. Steele to investigate Mr. Trump’s Russia ties.
Mr. Danchenko has previously been identified as Mr. Steele’s “primary sub-source” in compiling a series of private intelligence reports documenting Mr. Trump’s purported ties to Russia. Documents released by the Justice Department last year contained enough information for journalists and researchers to identify Mr. Danchenko, who had voluntarily spoken to the FBI under the condition that it protect his identity.
Mr. Steele’s research was paid for through several intermediaries by the Democratic Party in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. His reports circulated widely in political and media circles in late 2016 and served as key evidence in a secret surveillance warrant that was obtained against Carter Page, a onetime foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Trump.
Many of the dossier’s claims were contested and Mr. Trump has denied nearly all of them. He said the investigation it helped spark, culminating in his firing of FBI Director James Comey and the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, was a “witch hunt.”
In the years since relying on the dossier for a secret surveillance warrant and several renewals, the FBI has backed away from claims about the reliability of Mr. Steele’s information. Mr. Durham, in his indictment, wrote: “The FBI attempted to investigate, vet, and analyze the [Steele] reports but ultimately was not able to confirm or corroborate most of their substantive allegations.”
Attorneys for Mr. Steele didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. He has previously defended the rigor of his research work on Mr. Trump.
The indictment says that some of the material collected by Mr. Danchenko came from a U.S.-based source that lacked any firsthand knowledge of the material he was conveying. Mr. Durham alleges that some information was sourced in whole or in part to Chuck Dolan, a Washington-based public-relations executive, Democratic Party operative and adviser to the Clintons.
In another instance, Mr. Danchenko is alleged to have sourced a claim to the head of a Russian-American business group when in fact he hadn’t had any contact with him.
Mr. Dolan served in formal roles on President Bill Clinton’s two successful presidential bids as well as Mrs. Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign. He was an informal volunteer adviser to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
He has worked in high-level positions at a number of public relations firms in Washington and at the time of his encounters with Mr. Danchenko was working for private clients on Eurasian issues and had ties to Russian officials in the U.S. and abroad as part of his public-relations work.
Mr. Dolan isn’t identified by name in the indictment, but sufficient details were included to identify him. In addition, a deposition in a civil case stemming from the publication of the dossier names Mr. Dolan as one of three people present at a meeting described in the indictment.
In one instance, Mr. Danchenko sourced reports about the internal workings of Mr. Trump’s campaign to Mr. Dolan, the indictment alleges. Mr. Dolan told the Russian that he had had a drink with a GOP friend and passed along some gossip about Mr. Trump’s campaign manager. Mr. Dolan later told the FBI he had never had a GOP source and merely passed along material he had seen in public news reports.
In another instance, the most salacious allegation in the dossier, involving sexual behavior by Mr. Trump in the presidential suite of Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, came from a trip Mr. Dolan took to Russia in June 2016. According to the indictment, Mr. Dolan received a tour of the presidential suite while on business in Russia and met with Mr. Danchenko, who was also in Russia at the time, at the hotel.
Mr. Dolan told the FBI that he had never heard anything about Mr. Trump’s sexual conduct during the tour. Mr. Trump has denied the allegations.
Attempts to reach Mr. Dolan were unsuccessful Thursday. The indictment doesn’t make clear whether Mr. Dolan knowingly contributed to the dossier; at one point the indictment says Mr. Danchenko once told him he was working on a “”project against Trump” but didn’t appear to elaborate. Mr. Danchenko asked him in the same email to pass along “any thought, rumor, allegation” about internal Trump campaign material.
Although Mr. Dolan has said in the past that he was acquainted with both Mr. Danchenko and one of his sources mentioned in the indictment, Mr. Dolan has in recent years been working as a PR consultant to disprove elements of the dossier for a Cyprus-based firm that says its name was besmirched by the report.
Trump Organization Faces New Grand Jury In Manhattan
Manhattan prosecutors have convened a second grand jury to continue probing the financial practices of former president Donald Trump’s sprawling real estate business and to weigh possible criminal charges, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The new grand jury was assembled by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to examine whether the Trump Organization manipulated the value of its assets for loans and tax breaks, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing the matter because it isn’t public.
An earlier grand jury handed down an indictment against the company and its former longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, for alleged tax violations tied to executives’ luxury perks.
The Manhattan-based company and Weisselberg pleaded not guilty in that case, which is at an early stage. The new grand jury was convened only because the first one expired after six months, according to the person familiar with the matter.
Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The convening of the second grand jury was reported earlier by The Washington Post. That report, citing people familiar with the matter, said the grand jury would be meeting three times a week for the next six months.
Vance has been investigating the Trump Organization in cooperation with New York Attorney General Letitia James, who in 2019 began issuing a series of subpoenas to the company over the valuations of several properties. James’s civil probe triggered an ongoing court case after the company initially refused to comply. The company’s compliance is still a matter of contention.
James and Vance then joined their efforts, ultimately leading to the earlier criminal charges. Their offices continue to cooperate.
Vance, like James a Democrat, is leaving office after deciding not to run for a fourth term. That almost certainly means incoming district attorney Alvin Bragg, also a Democrat, will handle the resolution of the current Trump case and any additional ones that might be filed. James announced last week that she was running for governor of New York.
The Trump Organization has long argued the investigations are politically motivated. In May, Trump issued a statement accusing James and Vance of being “possessed, at an unprecedented level, with destroying the political fortunes of President Donald J. Trump.”
A major focus of James’s probe has been the Trump Organization’s appraisal of Seven Springs, a 212-acre estate in Westchester County, New York. Her office has been trying to determine whether the company gave an accurate valuation for the property when it served as the basis for about $21.1 million in tax deductions for donating a conservation easement for the 2015 tax year.
Trump’s 40 Wall Street skyscraper and his Chicago hotel are among the other properties being scrutinized in the attorney general’s probe, which overlapped with Vance’s broad investigation of possible bank, mortgage and tax fraud.
Virginia And New Jersey Voters Like Their Trumpism Without Trump
While holding the former president at arm’s length, candidates won support by parroting his anti-institutional, us-versus-them message.
Surprise! Trumpism doesn’t need Donald Trump as its ambassador in order to thrive. Voters in in Virginia and New Jersey have just made that abundantly clear.
Republican gubernatorial candidates in both states kept the former president at a distance, while making use of his political playbook to score a victory in blue-ish Virginia and engineer a nail-biter in deep blue New Jersey. By giving Trumpism a gentler guise, they’ve taught Republicans everywhere powerful, divisive strategies to road-test in next year’s midterm elections — and to perfect in time for the 2024 presidential race.
I’m defining Trumpism in the same terms the former president himself first outlined when he rode down that Trump Tower escalator in 2015: anti-institutional, anti-elite backlash wedded to cold-blooded, us-versus-them identity politics, often shrouded in bigotry and racism.
It’s always been easy to write off Trump as an aberration, when in fact he is a reflection of his country and his party. His presidency demonstrated Trumpism’s traction — even as it exposed certain grotesque truths about America. Trump handily shredded a number of myths some Americans have told themselves about who we are and what we value.
Trump was also incompetent and reveled in overtly loony antics, so he wasn’t able to either push his agenda as far as he wanted or secure a second term.
But Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, and Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate in Virginia, have learned from his example. They stoked concerns about government overreach and Covid mandates, while largely avoiding Trumpian histrionics.
To be sure, bipartisan anger over public education policies in both New Jersey and Virginia during the Covid-19 pandemic drew voters to Ciatarelli and Youngkin. Parents especially were angry that school lockdowns had left children and families adrift, and both Republicans tapped into that anger.
They also appealed to culture wars and to racism. “Schools” and “education” became proxies for “government overreach” and “racism/racial identity.” Messages focused on those specters solidified the GOP’s rural and exurban base and swayed suburban independents.
Ciattarelli, an entrepreneur and former state assemblyman who years ago labeled Trump a “charlatan,” had become a Trump supporter. Last December, he spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally, a public show of support for Trump’s babble about the 2020 presidential election being stolen. Once Ciattarelli began campaigning for governor, however, he kept Trump at bay.
At the same time, he hammered his opponent, Governor Phil Murphy, for what he described as unnecessarily strict mask and vaccine mandates and for locking students out of their schools for too long. Ciattarelli also targeted Murphy for signing a law that incorporated diversity and inclusion studies into New Jersey’s K-12 public school curriculum.
As a parent who has a child in New Jersey’s public school system, and have had two others graduate from it, I see this as “education” and am grateful that my children have access to it. But Ciattarelli claimed New Jersey has been instructing young students in critical race theory (it doesn’t) and warned that schools might be “teaching our children that white people perpetuate systemic racism.”
I’m a white guy with white kids in a predominantly white town, and I accept the fact that white folks play a pivotal role in perpetuating racism.
But, as Ciattarelli’s campaign showed, lots of my fellow New Jerseyans do not. Ciattarelli’s voters hate seeing mandates and masks trample their liberties — and they are uncomfortable exposing their little ones to robust and provocative discussions of racism.
In Virginia, Youngkin put many Trump themes in play, but not Trump himself. “Candidates matter,” Youngkin’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, said of his boss’s path to victory. “We weren’t defined by Obama, we weren’t defined by Trump, we were defined by Glenn.” Youngkin “triangulated the Trump dilemma with skill,” noted the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, by being “so un-Trump-like” while campaigning on “some of the same cultural issues.”
Youngkin, a former financier and an evangelical Christian, railed against Virginia schools that didn’t take parents’ concerns seriously. He also complained about critical race theory being part of Virginia’s public school curriculum (it isn’t), and promised to ban it if elected. “What we won’t do is teach our children to view everything through the lens of race,” he said.
One of Youngkin’s campaign ads featured a white suburban mother distraught that the late Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved,” which explores the ravages of slavery, was taught in Fairfax County’s public schools.
Morrison, who won both a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize for her work, was black. She also was apparently more threatening to kids than provocative white counterparts such as Cormac McCarthy and Nevil Shute, whose harrowing books are on Fairfax County’s recommended list but didn’t make it into Youngkin’s ads.
Virginia voters said the economy, critical race theory and education were decisive factors in their choice for governor (though some of them had no idea what critical race theory is). Polls are unreliable, and there’s more to learn about what Virginia’s voters were thinking, but how could they not have had race on their minds? Youngkin immersed them in the subject.
Ron DeSantis, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley come to mind.
Seemingly seismic political events, open to multiple interpretations, sometimes fade quickly. Hollywood savant William Goldman’s observation that “nobody knows anything” applies to explanations of the Virginia and New Jersey elections, too.
But Trump has shown that we don’t live in an entirely rational, fact-friendly country, that racism remains a central facet of the American experience, and that Republicans will continue doing Trump’s dirty work if it gets them elected. They’ll just do it more politely.
Former Trump Officials Violated Hatch Act During 2020 Election, OSC Says
High ranking officials in the Trump administration, including former senior adviser Jared Kushner, former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, violated federal law with their political activities, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel said in a report Tuesday.
Senior advisers Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short were among the 13 officials who the special counsel’s office said engaged in politics while on federal property or conducting official business. They did so through media appearances and other activities to promote former President Donald Trump’s re-election.
“Senior Trump administration officials chose to use their official authority not for the legitimate functions of the government, but to promote the re-election of President Trump in violation of the law,” the special counsel’s office said in the report. “The administration’s willful disregard for the law was especially pernicious considering the timing of when many of these violations took place.”
The Office of the Special Counsel said it received more than 100 complaints alleging that senior Trump administration officials violated the Hatch Act. However, the office said federal law was not violated when Trump hosted parts of the 2020 Republican National Convention at the White House.
The special counsel’s office previously said Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro’s media appearances and social media before the 2020 election also violated the Hatch Act. The office also previously recommended Trump fire Conway for repeatedly breaking the law, which he did not do.
Enforcing the law against the 13 administration officials named in the report fell to Trump, who never did so. There is no mechanism for enforcement once an official leaves office. The special counsel’s office said it is issuing its findings to educate employees about prohibited activities, to highlight the enforcement challenges it faces and to deter similar violations in the future.
The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint last month against an official in President Joe Biden’s administration, saying White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki improperly endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia. Psaki said she will “be more careful with my words next time, words certainly matter.”
Trump Gets Court Win To Shield Documents In Jan. 6 Probe
Donald Trump won a temporary hold on the release of his presidential diaries, call logs and other records to a U.S. House panel investigating the Capitol riot.
The National Archives was set to release some of the documents Friday to a committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot but the U.S. appeals court in Washington granted the former president’s request to prevent that for now.
“The purpose of this administrative injunction is to protect the court’s jurisdiction to address appellant’s claims of executive privilege and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits,” a three-member panel of the appeals court said in a ruling Thursday.
The court agreed to hear arguments in the case on Nov. 30.
Trump filed a lawsuit in October to stop the National Archives from handing the documents over to the panel, invoking executive privilege. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled in favor of Congress on Nov. 9, a decision that Trump promptly appealed.
The House committee, which is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, began investigating the assault on the Capitol over the summer. In addition to seeking records from the White House, the panel has subpoenaed documents and testimony from former Trump advisers, including political strategist Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Executive privilege allows the president to keep certain records confidential, but it’s usually reserved for the current occupant of the White House. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has waived it in this case. Lawyers for Trump, a Republican, argue that a former president should maintain some ability to invoke it. The insurrection at the Capitol was staged to overturn Biden’s election.
In denying Trump’s effort to stop the National Archives from giving Congress the documents, Chutkan said on Tuesday that the “public interest lies in permitting — not enjoining — the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on Jan. 6.”
Of his claim of executive privilege, she said it “exists to protect the executive branch, not an individual” and that “the incumbent President — not a former President — is best positioned to evaluate the long-term interests of the executive branch.”
“Presidents are not kings,” she said, “and plaintiff is not president.”
The case is Trump v. Thompson, 21-cv-02769, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
Summer Zervos Drops Defamation Lawsuit Against Donald Trump
Summer Zervos, a onetime “Apprentice” contestant who claimed former President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her more than a decade ago, agreed to drop the defamation suit she filed after he called her liar.
According to a filing Friday in New York state court, both Zervos and Trump agreed to drop the litigation, with each bearing their own legal costs. Trump had been due to sit for a deposition before Christmas, having failed in his attempt to get the suit thrown out earlier this year.
Trump issued a statement claiming vindication in the “lawsuit by a woman who made up false allegations” and saying he paid no money. Neither Zervos nor her lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Zervos claimed Trump groped and molested her in 2007 when she was one of the contestants on his NBC reality show. After Trump called her a liar, she sued him for defamation.
Due for Deposition
The case was filed in 2017 but dragged on for years as Trump argued that, as sitting president, he could not be subjected to state court lawsuits. A trial judge rejected that defense four years ago, but New York’s highest court didn’t dismiss appeal until March.
Zervos is not the only sexual assault claimant who has sued Trump. New York advice columnist E. Jean Carroll also sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after he said she was lying about having been raped by him in a Manhattan department store dressing room in the 1990s.
Carroll’s lawyer, Julie Fink, said in statement Friday that she “has no intention of withdrawing her complaint against Donald Trump” and noted that proposed changes to New York law may make it possible for Carroll to sue him for rape as well as defamation.
Steve Bannon Indicted On Contempt Charges For Defying Jan. 6 Panel Subpoena
The charges against the former Trump strategist mark the first such criminal case in decades.
Federal prosecutors have charged former Trump strategist Steve Bannon with criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, marking the first such criminal case for the Justice Department in decades.
A grand jury returned a two-count indictment on Friday.
The committee had subpoenaed Mr. Bannon in September for testimony and documents in connection with the events surrounding the attack, in which a pro-Trump mob sought to delay the certification of President Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. The panel has expressed interest in reports that Mr. Bannon encouraged former President Donald Trump and members of Congress to block the certification.
After Mr. Bannon ignored the subpoena, the Democrat-controlled House last month voted, largely along party lines, to send the case to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
A lawyer for Mr. Bannon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Bannon is expected to surrender Monday and appear in court later that day.
Prosecutors charged Mr. Bannon with one contempt count over his refusal to appear for a deposition and one related to his refusal to turn over documents.
“Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.”
Each count of contempt of Congress carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols, who was appointed by Mr. Trump, will preside over the case, according to the court docket. Previously, trials involving contempt of Congress have been bench trials without a jury because there was no significant dispute of fact between the prosecution and defense.
Juries are convened to decide questions of fact, while judges rule on questions of law.
The case comes as Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on Friday failed to appear for a deposition before the Jan. 6 committee, raising the prospect of another contempt-of-Congress vote and referral to the Justice Department for criminal charges.
The top Democrat and Republican on the committee applauded Friday’s indictment, saying it “should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R., Wy.) said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need.”
Mr. Bannon’s case also escalates a legal battle over whether a private citizen’s advice to the president could be shielded from Congress.
Mr. Bannon had served as a White House adviser at the beginning of the Trump administration, but Mr. Trump ousted him from the White House in August 2017.
In January, Mr. Trump pardoned Mr. Bannon, who faced federal fraud charges in Manhattan tied to an alleged scheme to siphon hundreds of thousands of dollars from a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. Mr. Bannon had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial in Manhattan federal court.
Friday’s indictment noted that Mr. Bannon hadn’t worked in the executive branch for more than three years on Jan. 6. and hadn’t provided the information the committee sought or requested an extension by the Oct. 7 deadline the panel set.
Later that day, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer told the committee he wouldn’t cooperate because Mr. Trump had claimed the subpoena sought information potentially protected by executive privilege.
Administration officials across parties often invoke executive privilege to avoid answering questions from lawmakers specifically about their conversations with the president—rather than to avoid testifying all together—as Mr. Bannon has. At least one Trump Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, also has declined to cooperate, citing executive privilege.
Other former administration officials, however, including former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, have spoken to the committee about the events leading up to Jan. 6. Executive privilege has traditionally been understood to be invoked by the incumbent president to protect institutional interests, which Mr. Biden has declined to do so.
However Mr. Trump has raised a number of novel and untested legal claims during his post-presidency about applying executive privilege beyond his term.
The case against Mr. Bannon represents a rare kind of prosecution for the Justice Department, which has declined to act on other contempt-of-Congress referrals in recent years.
The Jan. 6 select committee is investigating the causes and circumstances of the assault on the Capitol when a mob of supporters of Trump supporters overran police guarding the building, temporarily interrupting the certification of Mr. Biden’s Electoral College win.
It was established in June, in a largely party-line vote, after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of a bipartisan, independent commission. Republicans have said they consider the House committee’s work a partisan exercise, although two GOP House members serve on it.
The willingness of the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against those who defy the select committee could change the risk calculation for other witnesses, many of whom have expressed unwillingness to appear before Congress.
It also could reinvigorate congressional oversight powers if future Justice Departments follow the precedent that recalcitrant witnesses could be charged. In the past, few witnesses have faced any penalties for defying congressional subpoenas and Congress’s ability to investigate issues has been impeded, no matter which party was in control.
In 2019, the House, controlled by the Democrats, voted 230-198 to ask the Justice Department to criminally prosecute then-Attorney General William Barr and then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas to produce documents related to the addition of a citizenship question to the census.
Similarly, House Republicans referred Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for prosecution in 2014.
But Justice Department policy largely precludes prosecution of administration officials in document or testimony disputes with Congress, and the department didn’t act on the referrals. However, the Bannon charges could open the door for more nongovernment witnesses to face consequences for defying subpoenas from Congress.
Trump’s Washington Hotel To Be Sold, Renamed Waldorf Astoria
Donald Trump’s family-run company reached a deal to sell the rights to its Washington, D.C. hotel for $375 million, after which the property will be branded as Waldorf Astoria, according to people familiar with the matter.
A Miami-based investment firm, CGI Merchant Group, is in contract to acquire the hotel lease for the Trump International Hotel, situated less than a mile away from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, the people said, who declined to be identified because the matter is private. The transaction is expected to be completed in the first quarter, they said.
The buyer plans to remove the Trump name and reached a deal with Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. to convert the property to a Waldorf Astoria managed by Hilton. The Wall Street Journal reported the agreement earlier Sunday.
Trump won the rights to develop the hotel, located in Washington’s Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, in 2012, leasing the building from the federal government. The hotel has been a prized asset for the Trump Organization, and Trump rejected calls to sell the hotel when he was elected president.
Trump’s company has been engaged in off-and-on efforts to sell the hotel since 2019, when it floated an asking price of more than $500 million, Bloomberg News previously reported.
The hotel had been a source of consistent controversy, with critics arguing foreign governments and other interest groups could gain favor by booking rooms at a property owned by the former president’s company.
According to documents released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the hotel received about $3.75 million in payments from foreign governments, but still lost more than $70 million during Trump’s time in the White House. The Trump Organization disputed the report.
Trump Ally Steve Bannon Surrenders To FBI
Former White House strategist says he will ‘go on the offense’ in fighting charges of contempt of Congress.
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon surrendered to law enforcement Monday and was released on his own recognizance, days after a federal grand jury indicted him on criminal contempt of Congress charges for defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Bannon, 67 years old, turned himself in at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington office just before 10 a.m. Monday. During a short afternoon hearing, he said little other than acknowledging he understood the conditions of his release, which include weekly check-ins with court officials and the surrender of his passport. Mr. Bannon will likely enter a plea during another hearing set for Thursday.
A federal grand jury on Friday indicted Mr. Bannon on two counts of contempt of Congress, a misdemeanor, one over his refusal to appear for a deposition and one related to his refusal to turn over documents to the committee.
The committee is examining events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack in which a pro-Trump mob sought to stop the certification of President Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.
The panel has expressed interest in reports that Mr. Bannon encouraged former President Donald Trump and members of Congress to block the certification.
“This is going to be the misdemeanor from hell for America,” Mr. Bannon said outside the courthouse, over chants from a small crowd of “traitor” and “lock him up.”
Each count of contempt of Congress carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
The indictment marks the first such criminal case in decades for the Justice Department, which has declined to act on other contempt-of-Congress referrals in recent years. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said it underscored the agency’s commitment to pursuing equal justice regardless of politics.
Mr. Bannon signaled that he planned to use Mr. Biden’s words to “go on the offense,” noting that the president had told reporters last month he wanted to see the Justice Department prosecute those who defy subpoenas from the Jan. 6 committee.
“We’re tired of playing defense,” he said.
Mr. Biden has since said it was inappropriate for him to weigh in on Justice Department decisions, and Mr. Garland has repeatedly said prosecutors considered the case based on facts and the law.
“There is nothing about this case that reflects the pursuit of equal justice under the law,” said Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, David Schoen, who also represented Mr. Trump during his second impeachment trial where he faced a charge of inciting an insurrection based partly on his Jan. 6 speech ahead of the Capitol attack. “This thing was a scam from the beginning,” Mr. Schoen said.
The Bannon case is unfolding as Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, also failed to appear for a Friday deposition before the Jan. 6 committee, raising the prospect that Congress would hold him in contempt and refer the matter to the Justice Department for another prosecution.
Mr. Meadows’s attorney, George Terwilliger, has said his client has been engaged in a “sharp legal dispute” with the committee as Mr. Trump has claimed executive privilege over his testimony. In a Washington Post op-ed on Saturday, Mr. Terwilliger said he and Mr. Meadows had sought a compromise to satisfy the committee’s requests for information.
“Congress’s refusal to work out an accommodation and the Biden administration’s acquiescence fly in the face of 200 years of history—a history of dealing with these disputes by finding a middle ground,” Mr. Terwilliger wrote.
Mr. Bannon’s case escalates a legal battle over whether a private citizen’s advice to the president could be shielded from Congress.
Mr. Bannon had served as a White House adviser at the beginning of the Trump administration, but Mr. Trump ousted him from the White House in August 2017. Early this year, Mr. Trump pardoned Mr. Bannon, who faced federal fraud charges in Manhattan.
Friday’s indictment noted that Mr. Bannon hadn’t worked in the executive branch for more than three years on Jan. 6. and hadn’t provided the information the committee sought or requested an extension by the Oct. 7 deadline the panel set.
Later that day, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer told the committee he wouldn’t cooperate because Mr. Trump had claimed the subpoena sought information potentially protected by executive privilege.
Trump Moneyman Patrick Orlando’s Wuhan SPAC Plans to Liquidate
* Yunhong International To Dissolve And Return Shareholder Cash
* Orlando’s Digital World SPAC Plans To Back Trump Media Venture
Patrick Orlando, whose status as an operator of blank-check firms skyrocketed last month when he reached a deal to bankroll former President Donald Trump’s media company, is scrapping one of his earlier ventures for hunting such transactions.
Orlando’s special purpose acquisition company Yunhong International Co. plans to dissolve and liquidate, redeeming public shares at $10.31 apiece, according to a regulatory filing Friday. Yunhong, based in Wuhan, China, cited its “inability to consummate an initial business combination” before a deadline specified in the company’s bylaws.
Orlando is chief executive officer of Yunhong, as well as another SPAC, Miami-based Digital World Acquisition Corp. That venture turned heads on both Wall Street and in the political realm in October when news emerged that Trump planned to launch a new media empire and take it public by merging it with the SPAC. Digital World’s stock soared as much as 1,600% in less than two days — long before Trump’s app was even available for download.
SPACs, which raise money through an initial public offering and then hunt for a business to buy, typically must find a target within two years of the IPO. Unless managers and shareholders agree to extend the deadline, the vehicles return the cash raised.
Hundreds of SPACs, which have surged to unprecedented levels beginning in 2020, could soon be facing deadlines for completing mergers.
Orlando is also the CEO of Benessere Capital Acquisition Corp., another SPAC based in Miami.
Trump SPAC Deals Being Investigated by SEC
Probes show regulators are increasing their scrutiny of blank-check companies as deals pile up.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing two of the most notable SPAC deals struck this year, including former President Donald Trump’s venture, signaling that regulators are ratcheting up scrutiny of such deals and rushing to keep up with the frenzy of activity.
The SEC is investigating a potential merger between Trump Media & Technology Group and the special-purpose acquisition company Digital World Acquisition Corp., Digital World disclosed in a regulatory filing Monday.
The SPAC, known by its stock ticker, DWAC, would inject cash into and take public a new social-media company Mr. Trump has planned. On Monday afternoon, Trump Media & Technology said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) would be leaving the House and joining the company as chief executive officer.
Also Monday, electric-vehicle startup Lucid Motors Inc. said it got an SEC subpoena about projections and statements it made as part of its recently completed SPAC deal. The merger valued Lucid at roughly $24 billion, making it one of the largest-ever SPAC mergers.
Representatives for Trump Media & Technology, Digital World and Lucid didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The SEC declined to comment.
SPACs have been around for decades but used to be an arcane, rarely used deal-making tool. Over the past year, they have surged as an alternative to traditional initial public offerings and a way to invest in hot startups.
SPACs have raised as much money as traditional IPOs this year and have become ubiquitous among large banks and investment firms profiting from their exploding popularity.
Regulators have the responsibility for overseeing 571 SPACs that have raised money this year. For comparison, in the five years leading up to 2020 when the SPAC boom began in earnest, 172 SPACs raised money, according to SPAC Research.
Also called a blank-check company, a SPAC is a shell that raises money and trades on a stock exchange while seeking to merge with a private company to take it public.
After the Trump-Digital World deal was announced, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets reported that Mr. Trump met with Digital World Chief Executive Patrick Orlando early this year, before the SPAC had raised money.
If the meeting is deemed to have represented substantive deal talks, it could violate SEC rules. SPACs aren’t supposed to have a target company identified at the time they initially raise money, analysts say.
The SEC reached out in November seeking information from Digital World about its investors, trading policies and communications between the SPAC and Mr. Trump’s company, according to the filing. It couldn’t be determined whether the SEC is specifically seeking information regarding Mr. Orlando’s meeting with Mr. Trump.
SEC investigations typically focus on whether public companies made accurate disclosures to investors and take months or years to complete. Its civil probes don’t always result in formal allegations of wrongdoing.
The SEC has launched numerous investigations of SPAC deals, as concerns swirl that such mergers disproportionately benefit insiders at the expense of other investors. Some analysts also worry that projections companies make when combining with SPACs mislead investors. Those projections aren’t allowed in traditional initial public offerings.
Electric-truck startup Nikola Corp. , which went public via SPAC, has said it would likely pay about $125 million to settle an SEC probe of its founder’s statements.
Earlier this year, the SEC changed some accounting rules for blank-check companies. The rule change, combined with volatile stock prices for companies that went public via SPACs, contributed to a brief slowdown this summer in the creation of new SPACs, but issuance is rebounding again to end 2021.
More investigations could hurt sentiment in a sector that has exploded in the past year and continues to prove more resilient than anticipated, investors said.
“Clearly they’re concerned with this boom in a new asset class,” said Julian Klymochko, who manages a SPAC-focused fund at Accelerate Financial Technologies. “This could be another way to slow things down as they play catch-up.”
In an example of how SPAC mergers can backfire, BuzzFeed Inc. recently lost nearly all of its SPAC’s money due to investor withdrawals, leaving it with scant cash proceeds from the transaction.
Shares fell 11% to $8.56 on their first day of trading after the digital-media outlet replaced its SPAC in the stock market. SPAC investors tend to withdraw money when share prices are low before deals get finished.
Despite worries about rising withdrawals, tighter regulation and the struggles of some startups that went public this way, new blank-check firms are raising money at the fastest pace since the peak of the frenzy early this year. SPACs now have raised roughly $155 billion this year, nearly doubling last year’s then-record figure, according to SPAC Research.
SPAC mergers also continue to be announced at a steady pace, including recent deals for electric-vehicle maker Polestar and American Express Global Business Travel.
Shares of the Digital World SPAC taking Mr. Trump’s company public fell 2.6% to $43.81 Monday. They have still roughly quadrupled since the deal was announced, though they are well below an October intraday peak of $175 after individual investors piled into the stock.
Lucid shares slid more than 5% Monday. Its market value is still around $75 billion, just weeks after it delivered its first electric vehicles to customers.
In another sign of investor enthusiasm for the Trump SPAC, Digital World said over the weekend that it is raising $1 billion from investors in a private investment in public equity, or PIPE, associated with the deal.
That money, and some or all of the roughly $287.5 million held by the SPAC, could be used to grow Trump Media & Technology Group.
The PIPE investment and current Digital World SPAC price would value Trump Media & Technology Group at several billion dollars.
The $1 billion in PIPE commitments put the company among a select group. Only a few well-established companies that went public via SPACs, including Lucid, Southeast Asian app operator Grab Holdings Ltd. and personal-finance app operator SoFi Technologies Inc., have raised at least that amount.
But the announcement was abnormal in that the company didn’t say who the PIPE investors are or specify what they value the firm at, analysts said. Instead, it said PIPE investors would buy in at a price determined by a formula relating to the stock’s average price over a several-day period in late November and then before the deal closes.
Normally, PIPE investors in SPAC deals have to hold on to their shares for months after deals close. But in the Trump Media & Technology Group merger, PIPE investors could be able to quickly sell for a profit if they end up buying in at a discount and the opportunity arises, analysts said.
The complicated structure could have attracted hedge funds and others seeking fast profits rather than a long-term bet on Mr. Trump’s company, they said.
Mr. Trump has said the new company aims to combat the dominance of mainstream social-media platforms such as Twitter Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook. He was banned from such outlets following the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
The Digital World SPAC raised money in September, then announced its deal in October, one of the fastest such announcement timelines among the hundreds of blank-check mergers tracked by SPAC Research.
In the coming months, Trump Media & Technology Group would have to disclose its ownership structure and business information before the deal closes. Little is known about the new company and its social-media platform Truth Social.
After regulators review its financial information and the deal is completed, Trump Media & Technology Group would replace the SPAC in the stock market.
Who Just Gave Trump $1 Billion? Let’s Find Out
Investments in a blank-check company backing the former president could turn out to be IOUs if he wins back the White House.
Donald Trump’s new social media enterprise announced on Saturday that the blank-check company it set up to monetize the former president’s digital and political mojo has raised $1 billion — without identifying the members of the “diverse group of institutional investors” backing him.
Trump, a disinformation kingpin exiled from mainstream social media platforms, has positioned his gossamer startup, Truth Social, as a vehicle for battling “censorship and political discrimination” and the “tyranny of Big Tech.”
It’s also a convenient way for Trump to continue his life’s work: separating investors and fans from their wallets by pitching promises that he routinely fails to keep.
To be sure, some investors have already done well in this charade. When the Trump Media and Technology Group announced in October that it would use Digital World Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (or SPAC) to go public, the SPAC’s shares skyrocketed from $9.96 a share to $94.20 in two days.
The stock has since settled to $44.97, but hedge funds and others that bought into DWAC early have enjoyed a handsome return.
On the other hand, the only publicly traded company Trump has managed, his ill-fated casino gambit, made multiple tours through bankruptcy, burning investors, banks and employees along the way and leaving behind a haunting collection of craters in Atlantic City.
Trump, backstopped by his father, survived that meltdown, but few others did. Trump Media and Truth Social have already unfurled some red flags. They plan to open their doors early next year, but as my colleague Matt Levine has noted, they are doing so without a detailed business plan or financial projections.
Trump Media also hasn’t completed its merger with DWAC or made associated securities filings. And SPACs have had shoddy track records thus far, underperforming more standard initial public offerings. (The Securities and Exchange Commission is already taking a look at DWAC, including requesting records tied to the identities of certain investors, the company disclosed on Monday.)
So, Caveat Emptor
But there is a another and more consequential worry in all of this. Trump is a former occupant of the Oval Office and is likely to make another presidential bid in 2024. He had his hands on the national security apparatus once before and may well again.
The identities of the investors who just tossed $1 billion his way are of interest because anyone able to buy their way into Trump’s good graces by plopping a bag of money on his desk could sway public policy — which makes Trump a national security threat.
What might it mean, for example, if countries such as Saudi Arabia or others in the Middle East have decided to invest in his venture? That’s not an entirely hypothetical question.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently launched an investment firm, Liberty Strategic Capital, with funding from the Saudi government and other countries in the Persian Gulf region.
Mnuchin closely courted those same countries when he was one of the most powerful U.S. financial regulators in the Trump administration, but avoiding financial conflicts of interest was never a priority for Mnuchin, Trump and many others on that team.
The Trump administration indulged Saudi Arabia even after evidence surfaced that the country orchestrated the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mnuchin met personally with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after the killing. Bin Salman is chairman of the Saudi fund that has invested in Liberty Strategic Capital.
Trump’s White House also went out of its way to support arms deals with the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates, despite congressional opposition, and it backed both countries publicly in their controversial interventions in Yemen’s civil war.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an enthusiastic envoy to the Middle East when he was a senior White House adviser, is also trying to open an investment firm, with offices in the U.S. and Israel.
He has reportedly drawn interest from the Saudis for his new venture, although Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are said to have passed. Maybe they’ll circle back if Trump’s proximity to the White House grows closer.
Trump himself has already been scrambling to pare down more than $1 billion in debt that hung over his pandemic-battered real estate and resort holdings when he lost the presidential election in 2020.
He recently agreed to sell his prized but money-losing Washington hotel for $375 million, which would provide the Trump Organization with a $100 million gain, according to the Washington Post.
That money helps, particularly with paying off at least $421 million in debt that Trump personally guaranteed and comes due in the next several years, according to the New York Times.
Trump’s indebtedness, his reliance on income from overseas and his refusal to authentically distance himself from his hodgepodge of businesses made him a national security threat as president. That threat will reemerge if he seeks reelection in 2024.
In the meantime, and with Trump still hunting for cash, the $1 billion he just raised through a “private investment in public equity” (or PIPE) must be happy news for the former president.
After all, it is a significant multiple of the $293 million DWAC raised when it went public in September. Perhaps that $1 billion merely signals that some investors believe Truth Social is going to be a big hit. Or maybe they’re buying access to Trump. Either way, let’s find out who they are.
Trump Tells Court ‘Whole World’ Shouldn’t See His Financial Records
* House Lawyer Tells Court There’s So Much Smoke It’s ‘Blinding’
* Trump Says Subpoenas Would ‘Loom Large’ Over Future Presidents
Donald Trump’s lawyer told a federal appeals court that allowing the House to subpoena financial records from former presidents and show them “to the whole world” would give Congress too much leverage over the executive, upsetting the balance of power.
“How would you deal with Congress if you knew they could expose your entire financial history to the public as soon as you left office?” Trump’s lawyer, Cameron Norris, told a panel of three judges during a hearing Monday in Washington over a subpoena for documents by the House Oversight Committee. “That threat would loom large over everything you’re doing.”
Trump and House Democrats both appealed in August after a district judge issued an order requiring the former president’s accountants at Mazars USA to turn over some of his financial records while protecting others from disclosure. It’s one of several high-stakes clashes between Democrats and Trump, who is weighing a potential 2024 run for the White House.
Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed skepticism about Trump’s claim that the House was merely seeking leverage. “You’re assuming that’s the intent or the motivation of what Congress is trying to do,” Jackson said. “I guess that’s the part I’m a little unsure of.”
The House claims it is trying to find out if its process for reviewing the potential conflicts of interest of presidents needs to be improved. Lawmakers raised the issue after the Trump Organization leased the Old Post Office government building in Washington, which he converted into a luxury hotel.
The House’s general counsel, Douglas Letter, was asked by Jackson whether the subpoenas were too broad to meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s heightened standard for seeking financial records from presidents.
“The subpoena raises a question about whether what is really going on here is more of the kind of dragnet fishing expedition that we all agree the Supreme Court says you can’t do,” Jackson said.
Letter said the heightened standard “does not apply to a former president.”
Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan asked Letter a similar question after grilling the House lawyer about the relevance of Trump’s financial records. Letter said the House needs more detail about Trump’s financial transactions to truly understand the weaknesses in its oversight.
“There were serious problems that could have gone to major national security concerns because of Mr. Trump’s financial interests with, for example Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia,” Letter said. “There is so much smoke here, it is blinding and it’s hard to breathe.”
No Need For Records
Norris, Trump’s lawyer, argued that the House can change its conflict-of-interest policies “without every shred of President Trump’s financial information,” because the House has already identified areas of improvement.
But Jackson said she was concerned that restricting subpoenas of former presidents could shift the balance of power against Congress, potentially hindering its duty “to protect the republic from threats both foreign and domestic.”
“In a situation in which Congress perceives that there may have been threatening behavior, misbehavior, problems in the White House — one would think that the aftermath of that administration is exactly the time in which Congress would be evaluating whether the legislative scheme was sufficient to prevent that sort of thing from happening in the future,” she said.
Srinivasan asked Letter about whether the subpoenas had been issued for the valid legislative purpose of improving financial disclosure rules, or for the “invalid legislative objective of exposing wrongdoing for the sake of exposure.”
“The more it seems like President Trump’s financial arrangements were historically complicated and multi-layered and unique, the less it seems like that information is going to be relevant for predicting what a future president might present,” Srinivasan said.
Letter said Trump’s complicated finances may not be as unique as it seems.
“I think at one point we had three billionaires who had announced they were running for president in the 2020 election,” Letter said.
The August ruling by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta called on Mazars to turn over documents related to the hotel lease, as well as records that could shed light on whether Trump received gifts or compensation from foreign governments in violation of the Constitution’s so-called emoluments clauses.
The appeals will prolong a legal battle that began in 2019, when Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a subpoena demanding eight years of Trump’s financial records. Trump fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which punted it back to the lower courts in Washington.
The high court ordered new scrutiny to determine whether the subpoenas were clearly focused on valid legislative goals and didn’t excessively burden the president.
Judge Dismisses Trump Suit To Block Release Of Tax Returns
Donald Trump’s lawsuit to stop the release of his tax returns to a congressional committee was dismissed by a judge, who said a long line of U.S. Supreme Court precedents require “great deference” to valid congressional inquiries.
Within hours, the former president said he will appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington.
The fight over the tax returns goes back to 2019, when House Ways and Means Committee Committee Chairman Richard Neal sued to compel then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to hand over six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
“It might not be right or wise to publish the returns, but it is the chairman’s right to do so,” McFadden wrote. “Congress has granted him this extraordinary power, and courts are loath to second guess congressional motives or duly enacted statutes. The court will not do so here and thus must dismiss this case.”
Under Trump, the Justice Department fought House subpoenas for the documents. In July, the Justice Department directed the Treasury Department to hand over the tax returns to Congress, reversing a 2019 opinion that Treasury shouldn’t hand over the documents. Trump sued to block the release.
The ruling Tuesday is Trump’s latest legal setback in fights with Democrats. A federal appeals court this month rejected his bid to keep his White House records from a House select committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He’s also appealing to keep his accounting records from another House panel probing presidential conflicts of interest.
Congress first allowed its committees to access tax returns of individuals starting in 1926.
Trump refused to follow the practice of his predecessors to release his taxes during the 2016 presidential campaign, McFadden noted.
“That refusal led many — including his eventual opponent, Hilary Clinton, and then-Vice President Joe Biden — to demand that he release his returns,” the judge said. “He did not oblige.”
McFadden, who was appointed by Trump, rejected the former president’s argument that allowing Congress to subpoena tax filings of a sitting President would give lawmakers undue influence by letting them hang the threat over the executive.
“He would understand that Congress could make good on the threat only after he left office,” the judge wrote. “By then, his tax returns would be less salient, and the request would not restrict his abilities as a sitting President.”
Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the Tuesday ruling isn’t surprising because “the law is clearly on the committee’s side.” In a statement, Neal said he was “pleased that we’re now one step closer to being able to conduct more thorough oversight of the IRS’s mandatory presidential audit program.”
The top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady of Texas, criticized the ruling.
“Today’s ruling is troubling because the court is empowering Democrats in Congress to weaponize the tax code for purely political purposes, endangering the privacy of any taxpayer in America who politicians in Congress seek to target,” Brady said in a statement.
The Two Reasons Trump Is Stronger Than He Looks for 2024
Not only is he the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. He is also indifferent to anything but his own self-interest. Both are political assets.
People who think that Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party has been mostly malign are always looking for signs that it is fading.
Matt Lewis, writing in the Daily Beast, sees several such indicators, from the empty seats at recent Trump events to the struggles of some of the candidates he has endorsed. Josh Kraushaar, a columnist for National Journal, thinks Trump has handed his opponents in the party an opportunity by backing former Senator David Perdue’s primary challenge to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. If they help Kemp withstand it, they will liberate other Republicans from the need to stay supine before Trump.
A lot of anti-Trump Republicans took heart in November, too, from Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s governor’s race since it suggested that their party can regain some of the voters Trump repelled from the party while holding on to the ones he recruited to it.
The obvious bad news for Trump’s opponents — something neither Lewis nor Kraushaar denies — is that Trump retains great strength in the party and remains its most powerful leader. The less obvious bad news is that he is also stronger than he looks.
There are two reasons for this hidden strength. The first has to do with Republican voters’ interest in winning the 2024 election.
Anti-Trump Republicans will seek to persuade them that they will lose to the Democrats if Trump is again the nominee. Trump has been consistently unpopular, he lost re-election, and he has increasingly concentrated on his personal grievances rather than issues of direct concern to most voters.
Losing a presidential election, and especially a re-election, typically hurts a candidate’s political reputation so badly that he can’t try a comeback four years later. Trump’s nonsense about having won the last campaign in a landslide, only to have it stolen from him, is partly about avoiding an exile to loserdom.
But it’s not just myths about 2020 that will lead Republican voters to think he is a viable candidate for 2024. There’s also the reality that, well, he’s a viable candidate for 2024.
A Wall Street Journal poll in December put him only one point behind Biden in a rematch. A different poll had Trump ahead by two last month. Of course, it is very early, and Democrats may be at a low ebb.
The takeaway from these polls is merely that Trump isn’t a sure loser. If Democrats are struggling in 2024, his enthusiastic supporters might again combine with those voters who grudgingly prefer him to the Democrats to give him an electoral majority.
The second reason Trump has more power over Republicans than it looks is that his influence depends as much on the depth of his support as on its breadth.
Some Republicans who wish Trump would fade away have taken solace in polls that show voters increasingly likely to call themselves primarily Republicans rather than Trump supporters. (In October 2020, Trump-first voters outnumbered Republican-first voters 59-30; this month, the split is 42-50.)
Let’s say, though, that the Trump-first number shrinks much further, to 10% of right-leaning voters. If Trump is willing and able to convince that 10% not to vote for Republican candidates he dislikes, Republicans won’t be able to win races in a lot of places. And we know he’s willing to do it.
Jonathan Karl of ABC has reported that on the last day of his presidency, Trump threatened to destroy the Republican Party by starting a new one. That was two weeks after he had cost Republicans two Senate seats and consequently control of the chamber by attacking Georgia Republican officials and casting doubt about whether elections were administered honestly.
Since then, Trump has openly talked about how Republican voters won’t show up in 2022 or 2024 if Republicans don’t “solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020” — which can easily be read as a threat against Republicans who don’t indulge his landslide fantasy.
If Kemp beats Perdue in the primary, Trump will likely campaign against him in the general election without worrying that a Democrat will profit from it. If Kemp then loses, Republicans looking for lessons about Trump will pay more attention to the end of his governorship than his primary victory.
Trump is, in short, well-protected against the electability argument his Republican opponents would most like to make, and he stands apart from his would-be rivals in his indifference to anything but his own self-interest. Like it or not — and I really, really don’t — these are both political assets for him that have a good shot to endure.
Donald Trump’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ Tapes Are Being Reviewed in a Fraud Suit
Unaired footage from Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” TV show is being reviewed by a team of lawyers in Los Angeles as part of a suit accusing the former president and his children of ripping off viewers for years by endorsing a troubled multilevel marketing company.
Lawyers for people who say they were fraudulently induced by Trump to invest in the marketing company, ACN Opportunity LLC, have been waiting for almost two years to access the tapes held by Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, as part of a federal suit they filed against the Trumps in 2018.
They lawyers “are working diligently to make efficient progress” in reviewing two episodes of the reality-TV program, plaintiffs attorney Roberta Kaplan said in a letter Thursday to the New York judge overseeing the case. They’re looking for evidence including unscripted, behind-the-scenes chatter among the Trumps, who allegedly didn’t really believe in the products they pitched.
Kaplan wrote to advise the judge that ACN this week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take its appeal challenging a federal appeals court ruling denying ACN’s attempt to force the Trump case into arbitration, even though ACN isn’t a party in the litigation. In the letter, Kaplan called it an “extraordinary” delay.