Trump & Preet

micahs-mastheadPresident-elect Trump’s creative destruction of the established order in Washington continues to transfix the chattering classes and only a charlatan would claim to know where it all will end. Anti-corruption aficionados across the political spectrum are mesmerized by the spectacle of Mr. Trump’s vast business empire on a collision course with the presidency. In a series of dawn bulletins issued today via Twitter, Mr. Trump announced that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.” Details to follow. How Mr. Trump resolves the issue will send up an important signal about the nature of the Trump Presidency. Another sign will come with his selection for the critical position of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The SDNY appointment is off the radar but should be watched closely. The office is one of the most important crime-fighting posts in the country. It’s been home to such law-enforcement legends as the trust-busting Henry Stimson, Tammany Hall foe Thomas E. Dewey, the visionary Robert M. Morgenthau and Mafia antagonist Rudy Giuliani. Its size, Manhattan location, jurisdiction over Wall Street and distance from the capital’s intrigues makes the SDNY a critical player in the U.S. justice system.

Today the SDNY is led by the crusading Preet Bharara, scourge of political corruption in seemingly every corner of New York state. And make no mistake: New York is in the midst of a corruption epidemic. Over the past decade, more than thirty lawmakers have been convicted or charged with wrongdoing. You can view the wall of shame here, courtesy of the New York Times. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 87 percent of New Yorkers say government corruption is a serious problem. 87 percent! Among those sent to jail by Mr. Bharara are the former Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and the former majority leader of the New York State Senate, Dean Skelos, a Republican. Corruption in New York is a bipartisan affair.

Silver and Skelos were two of the infamous “three men in a room” that control Albany. The third man is the governor of the state, currently Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but earlier this month Mr. Bharara indicted eight men, including two former top aides to Cuomo, in a sweeping bribery and fraud scheme. A third former Cuomo aide has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation.

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Drowning In The Swamp

micahs-mastheadThe Trump transition is picking up steam and it’s clear we’re in for some interesting times in Washington. This is not going to be business as usual. But already there are danger signals flashing for the president-elect.

Mr. Trump famously campaigned on “draining the swamp of corruption in Washington,” a call that resonated that across the country. “We must fix a rigged system in which political insiders can break the law without consequence and where government officials put special interests above the national interest,” he wrote in USA Today on the eve of the election that changed his world—and ours.

Mr. Trump now faces some painful choices. The multi-billion-dollar Trump Organization, his life’s work, threatens to throw a shadow of corruption over the Trump Presidency before it even gets started. “Life is unfair,” another president said. There might not be a shred of truth to corruption concerns about the Trump holdings, but perceptions matter. Political insiders, government officials and special interests all will be drawn into the Trump Organization scandal vortex unless the president-elect moves fast.

The Trump Organization is a sprawling enterprise with complex business dealings across the globe. According to a Washington Post analysis of Trump financial filings, more than one hundred Trump companies had done business in South America, Asia and the Middle East. The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump’s fortunes “depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers” and his companies “have at least $650 million in debt.” As president, the Times noted, Mr. Trump would have “substantial sway” over fiscal policy, appointments directly affecting his financial interests, legislative issues impacting his net worth, and official dealings in foreign countries where the Trump Organization does business.

Numerous examples of potential Trump conflicts have already surfaced:

In China, a frequent Trump target on the campaign trail, the government-controlled Bank of China is part of a group that loaned a Trump affiliated office building in Manhattan $950 million.

In India, Trump business partners are building luxury apartment complexes. Three Indian developers flew to New York last week and met with the president-elect.

In Argentina, news reports say President Mauricio Macri fielded a request from the president-elect for help with an office building project in Buenos Aires during a congratulatory phone call. Spokesman for both men denied the account. Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, joined the men for a portion of the call.

In Saudi Arabia, the Trump Organization is exploring hotel deals in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

In Germany, troubled Deutsche Bank has been involved in $3.5 billion in loans to Trump entities since 1998. Loans of more than $350 million from the bank are tied to Trump properties in Miami, Chicago and Washington.

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Who Was Mike Rogers?

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It’s a chaotic week over at the Trump transition. Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Chris Christie ally, is out as senior national security adviser. Only days ago, the Great Mentioners were mentioning Rogers as the next CIA chief or Director of National Intelligence. So it goes at the court of the Sun King. Rogers has been on Judicial Watch’s radar for years. His House committee gave an early whitewash to the Benghazi affair and he opposed the formation of Trey Gowdy’s special select committee. As I noted in a June 2014 investigative report, Rogers and his wife, Kristi Rogers, are quintessential Washington insiders, with deep ties to the corporate shadow armies operating at the fringes of government control. We’re reprinting that report, first published at the Daily Caller, below. Rogers may not be running the CIA anytime soon, but he remains a cautionary tale about the insider game in Washington.

Unraveling Benghazi: Is Mike Rogers Part of the Problem?

Daily Caller

June 17, 2014

With the curtain soon to go up on select committee hearings on Benghazi, a key question remains unanswered: what on earth were we doing there? What policies were being pursued in that violent outpost of the Libyan revolution?

The White House would rather not say. In an email obtained by Judicial Watch and released in April, senior White House communications advisor Ben Rhodes instructed administration media spinners in the aftermath of the attack to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” For all the sound and fury over hearings, Congress also has not shown much interest in precisely what Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the State Department and the CIA were doing in Benghazi.

Last month, Daily Beast national security correspondent Eli Lake reported that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers had “warned his colleagues about the upcoming select committee to investigate Benghazi.” In interviews Rogers “downplayed” the testimony CIA contractors gave in closed session, Lake noted, and has said he did not believe the CIA had stonewalled his committee. Lake reported that “the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Armed Services, and Government Reform committees — Reps. Rogers, Buck McKeon, and Darrell Issa, respectively — all opposed the formation of a select committee on Benghazi.”

Sussing out the White House’s response to Benghazi is a critical step in clearing the shadows from the incident, but there are other players in the drama as well, including Rep. Rogers, and possibly also including a private military contracting firm that until recently was run by his wife, Kristi Rogers. Mike and Kristi Rogers are quintessential Washington insiders. A seven-term Republican from Michigan, Mike Rogers climbed the political ladder to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee in January 2011. Kristi Rogers, after years of government service in mid-level administrative positions, moved to the private sector, joining the British-based security contractor Aegis Defense Services to help open its U.S. subsidiary. The newsletter Intelligence Online noted that thanks to Ms. Rogers’ efforts, “Aegis won several major contracts with the U.S. administration.”

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Entering The Trump Era, A Changing Investigative Landscape

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Congratulations to President-elect Donald Trump. Presidents come and go, but scandal and crime are timeless. Here are three epic investigations that will reach an endgame in the new world of Trump.

The Emailiad. Homeric in scope, the saga of HRC’s emails is one for the history books, with a major impact on the presidential race. Seemingly every important player in Clinton World appeared in the emails. They are the thread connecting many controversies—the Clinton Foundation and it satellites, Teneo Holdings, cybersecurity and penetration of servers, relations with foreign governments, payments to various Clintons and Clinton entities, suspicions of quid pro quos, big money players, Wikileaks mischief, the Russians.

The Republican Congress is likely not finished with email investigations, though the media will soon lose interest, dazzled by all the bright shiny objects of the new Trump Administration. The courts will continue to play an important role in the fight for transparency in the emails case. Lawsuits from Judicial Watch and others will continue to produce documents.

Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of emails may yet emerge—recall that the FBI recovered about 15,000 pages of records related to Mrs. Clinton’s “deleted, personal” emails and turned them over to the State Department, which has yet to release them. (Read about Judicial Watch’s latest legal moves in the case here.) Recall, too, that Mrs. Clinton said there were about 30,000 of those deleted, personal emails. Plus thousands of possibly relevant emails from the Anthony Weiner computer. Plus a flow of illicitly obtained emails from Wikileaks.

How will the nascent Trump White House handle the email caper? Its actions will say a lot about whether the administration will continue the smash mouth tactics of the campaign or adopt a new approach.

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Transparency Failures; NY State of Corruption; Bill & Loretta

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Greatest Transparency Failures Ever? In one week, thank God, the presidential election will be over. But on one issue there is not a whit of difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Both represent the greatest transparency failures in the history of presidential politics.

To Clinton watchers, Mrs. Clinton has followed a familiar pattern of denial, delay and destruction of records in the email saga that now threatens to sink her presidential campaign. As I noted recently in the Wall Street Journal, the email imbroglio is part of a long history of the Clintons’ war on transparency. In 1993, for example, as the Whitewater investigation in Arkansas heated up, top White House aides argued for full disclosure of documents. The Clintons rejected that advice—Mrs. Clinton was vehemently opposed—and Whitewater documents dribbled out for years. The documents repeatedly embarrassed the president and first lady, but failed to provide evidence of any criminal acts.

Mr. Trump has followed a similar path with his refusal to release his tax returns, his seemingly endless lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, and his rhetorical assaults on the First Amendment. He recently got a taste of the Whitewater treatment when three pages of his 1995 tax returns were leaked to the New York Times, resulting in a fire storm of bad publicity. But as with the Whitewater documents, on close examination the three pages of Trump tax returns showed no criminal wrongdoing.

The lesson here? Full disclosure can be good politics as well as good policy. Both candidates would have benefited from getting out in front of withheld documents. The next president could transform Washington with smart Freedom of Information Act reform. It’s not brain surgery: tighten FOIA loopholes; penalties for delays by repeat offenders; and triple the number of FOIA officers at agencies. FOIA gets no respect. More power and money—the two things Washington respects most—would change that.

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Lessons for Trump From the Clinton Scandals

The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2016

A generation ago, as the 1992 presidential campaign heated up, The Wall Street Journal asked: “Who Is Bill Clinton?” The country “will get to know, or try to get to know, Bill Clinton and Hillary,” the Journal noted. “The Gennifer Flowers tank has already rumbled by. But where’s the rest of them?”

Not far behind, as it turned out. Eight years of scandal and suspicion followed: Whitewater, Travelgate, the firing of all U.S. attorneys, the death of a White House deputy counsel and the jailing of a Justice Department associate attorney general, vanishing documents, congressional hearings, independent counsels, lurid allegations from Arkansas, 1996 campaign-finance misdeeds, Paula Jones, Monica, impeachment, the Marc Rich pardon.

Today, with his campaign staggering but the presidency perhaps still within his grasp,Donald Trump should consider the central lesson of the Clinton years: Scandal compounded by secrecy blots out the political sun. Opposition to the Clintons quickly coalesced as the media, members of Congress and outside groups seized the moment. The most successful of these opposition efforts—if “success” is measured by impact on the presidency and corruption convictions—focused on matters of law and evidence of criminal behavior. The Whitewater investigation netted 15 corruption convictions, including that of the sitting governor of Arkansas. Four senior Clinton-connected fundraisers went to jail in the campaign-finance scandal, which exposed Chinese attempts to influence the election. Paula Jones’s sexual-harassment lawsuit led to White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to President Clinton’s impeachment in the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

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The New Tammany Hall: New York in an Age of Corruption

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De Blasio, Clinton cronies are carving up the city. Right, developer Bruce Ratner

 

In New York City, the controversy plagued Atlantic Yards development appears to be heading for trouble again. That could create problems for Mayor Bill de Blasio and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Allies of both Democrats have profited mightily from the project.

For over a decade, Atlantic Yards has been at the center of heated disputes over power, profit and privilege in New York. Does the site serve the needs of the taxpayers who financed its development?  Or is it primarily a giant boondoggle generating torrents of cash for well-connected insiders?

The 22-acre, $5 billion Brooklyn site of planned residential, commercial and park space is home to the Barclays Center sports arena and sixteen high-rise buildings in various stages of development. According to recent news reports from Moscow, Barclays Center owner  Mikhail Prokhorov is under Kremlin pressure to sell all his Russian assets. Prokhorov’s U.S. holdings could be next. Prokhorov’s fall would reverberate from Moscow to New York, where U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is making development deals a centerpiece of a sweeping anti-corruption crusade.

New Yorkers have been here before.

“I seen my opportunities and I took ’em,” the plain-speaking Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkitt said in 1905. The corrupt Tammany political machine dominated New York City politics for a century, its chicanery extending into every corner of civic life. Bribes, kickbacks, fraud, extortion and graft were the order of the day. Today, New York is witnessing the birth of a new Tammany Hall. Plunkitt’s heirs are seeing their opportunities and taking them on a colossal scale.

The center of the new Tammany is Mayor de Blasio’s City Hall. But de Blasio is no Boss Tweed, old Tammany’s criminal genius. De Blasio has emerged as more pawn than prince of the city: insecure, in over his head, buffeted by moneyed players he cannot seem to resist and presiding over accelerating pay-to-play scandals that have cast a pall of political death over his administration.

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The Whitewater Draft Indictments: National Archives v. Judicial Watch

imagesNew details continue to emerge from Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act fight with the National Archives over the release of draft indictments of Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater case. According to the Archives, release of the indictments—drafted by an independent counsel examining the Clintons’ relationship to a corrupt Arkansas S&L and an alleged cover-up—would violate grand jury secrecy and Mrs. Clinton’s personal privacy. FOIA request denied.

Judicial Watch declined to take “no” for an answer, and so off to court we went. The case is now in the hands of a federal judge.

In the course of litigation, new facts have come to light. Under FOIA, the Archives must produce a “Vaughn Index”—a tantalizing and at times maddening document. A Vaughn Index is the government saying: we are not giving you the documents, but here is an “index” of what we are not giving you, and why we are not giving it to you. Your tax dollars at work.

In the National Archives Vaughn Index for the case, we learn that the government is sitting on at least twelve versions of the the draft indictment of Mrs. Clinton, including one “listing overt acts.” From the public record, we know that the Whitewater case centered around whether Mrs. Clinton, while First Lady, lied to federal investigators about her role in the corrupt Arkansas S&L, concealed documents (including material under federal subpoena), and took other steps to cover-up her involvment. Prosecutors ultimately decided not to indict Mrs. Clinton, concluding that they could not win the complicated, largely circumstantial case against such a high-profile figure.

The draft indictments range from three to forty pages—the former likely excerpts or “scraps” from longer documents, the Vaughn Index indicates. Some of the drafts doubtless are copies but many clearly are not. A total of 451 pages of draft indictments are being withheld by the Archives.

In its final brief in the case, Judicial Watch took a wrecking ball to the Archives’ grand jury secrecy and personal privacy claims. Judicial Watch noted “the truly enormous quantities of grand jury material already made public” in the independent counsel’s final report. Judicial Watch provided the court with a detailed list of grand jury and non-grand jury material that had already been made public. If there ever was a valid claim to grand jury secrecy in this closely scrutinized case, it is long gone.

The Judicial Watch brief noted that the Archives “fails to identify a single, specific privacy interest Mrs. Clinton still has in the draft indictments” following publication of the independent counsel’s report and “hundreds of pages of grand jury materials, non-grand jury materials, and independent counsel legal theories and analysis that are already in the public domain.”

A typical FOIA privacy claim centers on unwarranted invasions of personal privacy. But in Mrs. Clinton’s case, the brief noted, the Archives “makes no claims that disclosure of the draft indictments will reveal any particular personal, medical or financial information about Mrs. Clinton, much less anything intimate or potentially embarrassing.”

Mrs. Clinton of course is one of the most famous women in the world, a former First Lady, senator and secretary of state, and the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president of the United States. The findings of an investigation into whether Mrs. Clinton told the truth to federal investigators and withheld evidence under subpoena while she was First Lady is clearly matter of public interest as voters weigh her suitability for the highest office in the land.

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, May 10, 2016

Benghazi: What Did Bill Clinton Know & When Did He Know It?

New documents obtained by Judicial Watch raise questions about the role of Clinton Inc. in the Benghazi debacle, particularly the involvement of Bill Clinton and longtime Clinton hatchet man Sidney Blumenthal.

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Mrs. Clinton, seeking to ease concerns about her ties to the Clintons’ powerful political machine, famously pledged as secretary of state-designate not to “participate personally and substantially” in matters relating to the Clinton Foundation or the Clinton Global Initiative. We now know that promise was swiftly broken. Blumenthal—a man so hated by the Obama White House that it banned the State Department from hiring him—was secretly put on Mrs. Clinton’s payroll in an arms-length arrangement funded by the Clinton Foundation and Clinton ally David Brock. Judicial Watch and the New York Post documented the deep ties between the Clinton State Department and Blumenthal here.

Blumenthal was active in Libyan affairs. He privately urged Mrs. Clinton to take a more aggressive military role in country and to claim more credit for Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall. He also promoted a Libya deal sought by U.S. defense contractor Osprey Global Solutions. Among Blumenthal’s many memos to Secretary of State Clinton are several that claim to possess an inside track to the thinking of the new Libyan president, Mohammed Magariaf.

According to the new Judicial Watch documents, while the Benghazi facilities were under attack on September 11, Clinton phoned Magariaf at 6:49 p.m. Washington time, asking the president “to provide additional security to the compound immediately as there is a gun battle going on, which I understand Ansar as-Sharia is claiming responsibility for.”

Three hours later, Clinton issued a statement blaming the attack on an Internet video: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”

An hour later, at 11:11 pm, Clinton emailed her daughter: “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda-like group.”

Shortly after midnight, Clinton received a “Confidential” email from Blumenthal titled “Magariaf and the Attacks on Libya.” Citing intelligence gleaned from unnamed “senior advisers, including members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood,” Blumenthal said Magariaf had been told the Benghazi and Tripoli attacks were inspired by a “a sacrilegious internet video on the prophet Mohammed.”

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The Clinton Shell Game

“For the duration of my appointment as Secretary if I am confirmed, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which The William J. Clinton Foundation (or the Clinton Global Initiative) is a party or represents a party….”

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton in a letter to State Department Designated Agency Ethics Official James H. Thessin, January 5, 2009.

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At Judicial Watch, we were reminded of this pledge last week when Mrs. Clinton melted down in an exchange with a Sanders supporter who confronted her about Big Oil donations to her campaign. “I do not have,” Mrs. Clinton snapped. “I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me! I’m sick of it!”

The now ubiquitous legion of fact-checkers quickly weighed in, with PolitiFact noting that the Clinton campaign had received a mere $307,000 from oil and gas interests, or “0.2 percent of the more that $159 million her campaign committee has raised.” Bad Bernie. Points to Hillary.

A week earlier, PolitiFact dragged us into a similar flap when it attacked tax reform activist Grover Norquist for allegedly misstating information from documents we revealed showing collusion between Secretary of State Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). The documents included an email chain between senior State Department aides discussing how Mrs. Clinton would thank attendees at the gathering—CGI is the glittering centerpiece of the Clinton Inc. money machine, a colossal vacuum sucking up cash and celebrity on an unprecedented scale.

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