GAO To Investigate Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trips And Hotel Profits

The Government Accountability Office is going to investigate the security of classified information at  Mar-a-Lago and hotel profits. Reuters reports:

A U.S. government watchdog has agreed to review how classified information is kept secure at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the agency said on Monday, after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the issue last month.

The Government Accountability Office’s review will examine whether Secret Service agents subject Mar-a-Lago guests to any security screening, and evaluate the expenses incurred by government employees who travel with Trump to Mar-a-Lago, according to a letter the agency sent the lawmakers on Friday.

The GAO will also check whether Trump has made any payments to the U.S. Treasury from profits at his hotels, the letter said. Trump’s lawyer pledged at a Jan. 11 news conference to donate Trump Hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s handling of U.S. security information at Mar-a-Lago came under congressional scrutiny in February after photos taken by private guests in the club’s public dining area showed Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviewing documents following a North Korean missile launch.

The White House denied afterward that any classified material was present in the dining room.

This might turn out to be just one of several investigations into Donald Trump in the upcoming months. Last week I posted about a public corruption prosecutor hired to investigate Trump.

In somewhat related news today, Gallup reports that Donald Trump’s approval has hit a new low:

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating fell to 36% for the three-day period of March 24-26, following Republican House leaders’ failed effort to pass a new healthcare bill that would have replaced the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s three-day reading prior to Friday’s events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date.

Trump’s current 36% is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975. John F. Kennedy’s lowest approval rating was 56%; Dwight Eisenhower’s was 48%.

Presidents George W. Bush (lowest approval rating: 25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%) all had job approval ratings lower than 36% at least once during their administrations.

Public Corruption Prosecutor Hired To Investigate Trump

The Wall Street Journal reports that New York’s attorney general has hired a top public corruption prosecutor to go after Donald Trump:

New York state’s attorney general, to date one of the most vocal antagonists of President Donald Trump, is preparing to escalate his office’s litigation against the president’s administration.

Democrat Eric Schneiderman has hired one of the top public-corruption prosecutors under former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to focus specifically on issues involving the Trump administration. Howard Master, who prosecuted the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s case against longtime New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver , is expected to work on both continuing and new White House-related matters for the attorney general, as well as on high-level public-corruption cases.

The hiring of Mr. Master, whose title will be senior enforcement counsel, signals Mr. Schneiderman’s continued intent to take on the Republican president…

Since Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Schneiderman has been one of a group of Democratic attorneys general who have directed both legal challenges and critical rhetoric toward the president on matters including his executive orders on immigration and refugees, climate change and threats to deport millions of illegal immigrants, among other issues.

Last week, Mr. Schneiderman’s office joined Washington state’s lawsuit against the Trump administration’s revised immigration order. “The Trump administration’s continued intent to discriminate against Muslims is clear,” Mr. Schneiderman said at the time, “and it undermines New York’s families, institutions and economy.”

In addition to challenging White House policies in court, Mr. Schneiderman’s office is expected to explore whether it has any standing to pursue cases that hinge on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, according to people familiar with the matter. That provision prohibits federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments…

State attorneys general have wide berth to challenge the legality of federal policies and laws that impact their states and citizens. In the lawsuit against the revised immigration executive order, for example, the complaint alleges that the policy harms New York’s health-care institutions, its tourism industry and its colleges and universities’ ability to recruit international students.

The New York attorney general also has broad powers in prosecuting financial fraud through the Martin Act, a state law that has more lenient requirements than on the federal level.

In addition, James Comey has verified in Congressional testimony today that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the election, and whether there was any collusion with the Trump campaign. So far, there has been no evidence released of collusion between Trump and Russia. Comey also stated that there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wire tapped Trump Tower.

Jake Tapper On Holding Trump Accountable For His Dishonesty

Jake Tapper’s appearance on Bill Maher provided some hope about the future of media coverage in challenging government, but the interview also got back to partisan double standards. The Hill summarized some of the good points (with full video above):

CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday tore into President Trump’s claims of news media bias, saying “there’s no bias when it comes to facts and there’s no bias when it comes to decency.”

“I’ve never really seen this level of falsehood,” Tapper said on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

“Just quantitatively. It’s not just, ‘If  you like your doctor you can keep your doctor,’ it’s conspiracy theories based on nothing that have members of his own party distancing themselves from him.”

Maher noted that Tapper “sounds different” lately in adopting a more critical style in “speaking truth to crazy.”

“Politicians lie. It wasn’t invented on January 20,” Tapper said, but Trump is trying to “discredit the entire fourth estate, the entire media, we’re all fake news except for ‘Fox And Friends.’ ”

“The truth of the matter is that there’s no bias when it comes to facts and there’s no bias when it comes to decency,” Tapper added. “It is empirically indecent to make fun of the disabled. You don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican or Independent or socialist or libertarian. That is just indecent. My children know better than that.”

Having the media point out when Trump is lying is far better than the common practice of the media reporting what both side say as if they are equally valid. Trump lies quite frequently in an administration which has become known for its use of alternative facts, and this should be pointed out. The news media provides an important service when it points out when politicians are lying.

While I applaud Tapper for trying to hold Trump accountable, he did drop the ball when Bill Maher reverted to partisanship in complaining about the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s scandals. Clinton violated email policies established to promote transparency in government as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then went on to repeatedly lie about the situation. This included her lies about the initial FBI report.  Clinton’s statement that, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful” was the first lie listed by Glenn Kessler (listed in no particular order) in his listing of The biggest Pinocchios of 2016. She also grossly violated the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State.

Candidates of both parties should be held accountable for their lying.

Three Reports Demonstrate How It Was A Horrible Mistake For Democrats To Nominate Hillary Clinton

Since Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, many Clinton supporters and partisan Democrats have blamed her loss on sexism, Russia, James Comey, and even Barack Obama. They repeatedly fail to acknowledge that the real problem was that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign. Of course the exact same thing could be said about Donald Trump, but when two terrible candidates are running, only one can lose, and Clinton was even more out of touch than Trump. With many Democrats failing to acknowledge why they have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now 2016, and some even speaking of nominating Clinton again in 2020, it is important for Democrats to face reality. Three recent studies shed some light on the election.

While perhaps not the most consequential, the most interesting was an experiment to look at sexism performed by Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science, and Joe Salvatore, “a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama—a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play.”

After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in October 2016—a battle between the first female candidate nominated by a major party and an opponent who’d just been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women—Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?

…Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

While Salvatore and Guadalupe were surprised at the results, I was not. Audiences did not like the character portraying Hillary Clinton, even when played by a man. The entire argument based upon sexism, with Clinton supporters finding absurd ways to blame any disagreement with Clinton on sexism, has always been absurd.  This is especially true on the left, where many opponents of Clinton had initially backed Elizabeth Warren, and some wound up voting for Jill Stein. Those on the left who opposed Hillary Clinton also object to Bill Clinton and other DLC Democrats for similar reasons, regardless of gender. For many, the choice of a running mate as conservative as Tim Kaine was the last straw. There are many reasons to oppose Clinton based both on her policy positions and her gross ethical misconduct in using her position to exchange influence for wealth which have nothing to do with gender.

Wesleyan Media Project study elaborates on what I have discussed previously on how Clinton ran a poor campaign, including in states such as Michigan which cost her the election. They noted that Clinton’s loss came from states in which she did not advertise until the last week. When I did start seeing ads for Clinton in Michigan, I questioned the judgement of her campaign. While Trump was advertising with promises (regardless of whether he could keep them) of creating more jobs and a brighter future, Clinton’s ads were based upon personal attacks (even if valid) against Donald Trump. The Wesleyan Media Project study showed that  “Clinton’s message was devoid of policy discussions in a way not seen in the previous four presidential contests.” They found that this strategy may have backfired badly.

Throughout the campaign, Clinton gave little reason to vote for her beyond her gender and it being her turn. Her own negatives, both on her record and her character, despite the denials of partisan Democrats, where on a level comparable to those of Donald Trump. It is no surprise that third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson did three times as well against Clinton and Trump than they did against Barack Obama and Mitt Romney four years previously.

Finally, Huffington Post ran yet another article making a case that the letter from James Comey cost Clinton the election. Many factors were involved in the loss, and it is simplistic to blame it on a single factor, but to blame it on Comey is actually an admission that it was a mistake to nominate Clinton.  There would have not been a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton if Clinton had not violated the rules regarding handling email, as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then go on to repeatedly lie about the situation. This included her lies about the initial FBI report.  Clinton’s statement that, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful” was the first lie listed by Glenn Kessler (listed in no particular order) in his listing of The biggest Pinocchios of 2016. Hillary Clinton’s frequent lies during the campaign negated any advantage she might have had over Donald Trump, who has also shown very little regard for facts or reality.

I argued before the nomination that it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate Clinton in light of the email and Foundation scandals. Beyond the details of these scandals, this emphasized Clinton’s dishonesty. An argument might be made that the coverage of Clinton’s scandals distracted from discussion of the issues, except for the fact that Clinton’s own campaign avoided discussion of the issues.

The lesson here is that it was a mistake for the Democrats to nominate a candidate who acted improperly in her last major government position, including grossly violating the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State, and was already distrusted by voters before the nomination.

Democrats were lucky to come as close as they did in the 2016 election with a candidate as weak as Clinton, and would have probably lost by a far greater margin if not for the many problems with Donald Trump. Running Republican-lite candidates have also cost them control of Congress and many state governments in the 2010 and 2014 elections. Democrats were in a strong position during the Bush years, but squandered this by moving as far right as the Republicans of circa 2002 on far too many issues, and engaging in exactly the same types of unethical behavior as they have attacked Republicans over. Democrats had an alternative in Bernie Sanders in 2016 who could have both motivated voters to turn out for him, and brought in the votes of many independent voters. By rigging the system for a more conservative candidate such as Clinton, and ignoring her major ethical failings, very likely cost Democrats both the White House and control of the Senate.

Jeff Sessions Exposed For Lying To Senate About Meeting With Russian Ambassador

As with every other bit of news which comes out with regards to Russia and the Trump administration, the news that Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador raises more questions. Without knowing what he spoke to him about, it is not possible to determine how much this matters. It might be no big deal if the Russians were just trying to get more information about Donald Trump, but it could be the biggest political scandal in American history if it were to turn out that the Trump campaign was actively working with Russia to attempt to rig the election.

As of now we only have evidence that Russia probably tried to influence the election, with questionable impact considering that the material released by WikiLeaks all appears to be factual. There is no evidence at this time of any conspiracy between Trump and Russia, and this needs to be investigated independent of any partisan concerns.

Having Sessions involved creates two new wrinkles to the case. First, he lied to the Senate about the matter. Secondly, as Attorney General, it is impossible to see how he could be trusted to be involved in this investigation. He has agreed to recuse himself from the investigation, which is the least he could do, but only after having been exposed for lying to the Senate.

Many are calling for more. Arn Pearson, a senior fellow at People For the American Way, wrote in USA Today that Sessions has destroyed his credibility and must go:

Not only is Sessions’ impartiality being questioned, his honesty to Congress and the American people has been thrown into doubt. Sessions must not only recuse himself from future investigations into the Russian influence scandal, which he did on Thursday, he must resign.

Lying under oath and intentionally making a false and misleading statement to Congress are crimes under federal law. In 1999, Sessions voted to convict Bill Clinton of perjury in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, having earlier said that, “I have no doubt perjury qualifies under the Constitution as a high crime.”

Whether or not Sessions did in fact commit perjury is a matter for Congress and the judicial process to decide, but there is certainly sufficient cause for investigation. What is not in doubt is that he seriously misled the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions is doing his best to equivocate, saying he did not discuss the elections with Kislyak and met with him as a member of the Armed Services Committee, not the Trump campaign. But that wasn’t Sen. Al Franken’s question. Franken asked about any communications with the Russian government, and Sessions responded with his blanket statement about not having had communications with the Russians.

Sessions’ explanation doesn’t hold much water. The Washington Post reached all 26 members of the 2016 Armed Services Committee including Chairman John McCain, and Sessions was the only one who met with Kislyak that year. And Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador came in the heat of the presidential campaign: first in July — the same month Sessions formally nominated Trump for president at the Republican National Convention and delegates were making pro-Russia changes to their platform; and then again in September — when concerns about Russian hacking dominated the news.

It is hard to imagine how Sessions could think those meetings were not worth mentioning during his confirmation hearing.

Richard Painter agreed in an op-ed in The New York Times. He compared this to when Richard G. Kleindienst was forced to resign as Attorney General in 1972 during the Watergate scandal:

Once again, we see an attorney general trying to explain away misleading testimony in his own confirmation hearing. A spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions says that “there was absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer because he did not communicate with the ambassador in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate. His contacts with the Russian ambassador, he claims, were made in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That may or may not have been the case (individual senators ordinarily do not discuss committee business with ambassadors of other countries, particularly our adversaries). Regardless, Mr. Sessions did not truthfully and completely testify. If he had intended to say that his contacts with the Russians had been in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and not for the Trump campaign, he could have said that. He then would have been open to the very relevant line of questioning about what those contacts were, and why he was unilaterally talking with the ambassador of a country that was a longstanding adversary of the United States…

President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well.

Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

A Way Too Early Look At The 2020 Election, Including A Pundit’s Prediction That Clinton Will Run Again

Yesterday I looked at very early discussions from pundits and pollsters regarding the 2018 Congressional elections. It is far too early to say what will happen, but at least there is old data correlating presidential approval ratings and changes in seat in the midterm elections. There are also pundits with way too early predictions as to the 2020 presidential elections, including one predicting that Hillary Clinton will not only run again, but win the Democratic nomination. Fortunately any predictions made today have a good chance of not coming true.

The New York Post looks at who the Trump White House sees as potential challengers, claiming that they are already working on finding negative information on them. A lot will change between now and 2020 and any predictions are risky. Who would have predicted that Barack Obama would be the nominee four years before he ran? However, it is interesting to see who the Trump White House is concerned about, assuming that the Post has reliable information as to their thoughts:

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, asked consultants to scour the backgrounds of four outspoken Democrats — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, two sources close to the administration said.

“The White House political department wants people to start looking into them,” said one source close to the White House. “Trump is obsessed with running for re-election.”

Both Murphy, a freshman senator who has lambasted Trump’s immigration orders, and Brown, a 10-year Senate vet who made Hillary Clinton’s VP short list, are seen as viable threats who can quickly raise money and build a network of supporters, the sources said.

Hickenlooper, who founded a brewery before becoming governor of the Western swing state, is seen as a less-combative rising star, the sources said.

But the White House’s “biggest fear” is that Cuban, a billionaire businessman, would run because he can appeal to Republicans and independents, the sources said.

“He’s not a typical candidate,” the second insider said. “He appeals to a lot of people the same way Trump did.”

This could be one reason that Trump is attacking Cuban, not that he needs any reason to attack anyone who has been critical of him.

Making predictions based upon age is risky, but reportedly they have eliminated not only Bernie Sanders but Elizabeth Warren as possibilities due to being too old. They eliminated Kirsten Gillibrand, believing she is too young. The Post also says, “Trump’s political team is also counting out Cuomo and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, because they’ve been tainted by corruption probes.” The nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016 showed that being tainted by corruption might not be a disqualification.

I would hope that the Democrats have learned their lesson and would not consider nominating Clinton again, but Matt Latimer predicts in Politco Magazine that not only will Clinton run again, but that she will win the nomination. His evidence for why he thinks she plans to run could indicate such plans, but is hardly conclusive. It is also conceivable that she wants to remain in the public eye, and rehabilitate her reputation, without plans to run. While perhaps she should take this advice, I really doubt that this is what she will do:

Hillary Clinton has 100 percent name ID, a personal fortune and a bastion of loyalists. She could enter the race at the last possible moment—at the behest of the people, of course—and catch her Democratic Party rivals by surprise. To soften her reputation as a programmed, overly cautious and polarizing figure, Clinton should eschew the front-runner label and run as an underdog, praising the other candidates and their proposals, opening up her campaign bus to the press corps and offering to have a freewheeling debate with any major rival, at any time, and anywhere.

It is possible she could win again, especially if their is a divided field without a clear front runner as he predicts, but based upon Clinton’s past I doubt this is what she will do. If she wants to run, her first instincts will be to once again try to clear the field and start running early with claims of inevitability.

Opening up to the press corps is the last thing Hillary Clinton would feel comfortable doing. She will continue to oppose liberal views which are far outside of her comfort zone. She certainly does not want to agree to frequent or freewheeling debates. Clinton knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to get the DNC to set a limit of four debates (with the DNC agreeing to limit it to six). Postponing the first debate until fairly late in the cycle made it harder for other candidates to establish themselves. Initially, due to her long experience in politics, she did dominate the debates. However, as Sanders developed experience in debating her, and the fact checkers reviewed her falsehoods, the debates turned against her, such as before the Michigan primary (which foreshadowed her general election loss). If there had been multiple debates starting earlier in the process, I doubt Clinton would have won the nomination.

Regardless of whether Clinton can win the nomination, I hope that Democrats have learned their lesson after loses in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Running as a Republican-lite party does not work. Democrats need to run their best possible candidate in 2020, not one so weak that she could not beat Donald Trump. It is especially important for Democrats to regain control of some of the state legislatures they have lost prior to redistricting in 2020, and a weak candidate on top of the ticket will make this more difficulty. Even if Clinton could win, after Trump we do not need a conservative DLC-type Democrat and neocon in the White House.

Bad Day For Trump’s Immigration Ban And Trump Conflicts Of Interest

There were two setbacks for the Trump administration today. The more significant was an appeals court ruling against Trump’s travel ban:

A three-judge federal appeals panel on Thursday unanimously refused to reinstate President Trump’s targeted travel ban, delivering the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke to his effort to make good on a campaign promise and tighten the standards for entry into the United States.

The ruling was the first from an appeals court on the travel ban, and it was focused on the narrow question of whether it should be blocked while courts consider its lawfulness. The decision is likely to be quickly appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

That court remains short-handed and could deadlock. A 4-to-4 tie in the Supreme Court would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place.

I’ve seen some Trump supporters write this off to a decision of a liberal court. Note that this three judge court ruled unanimously on the issue, including a judge appointed by George W. Bush. (The other two were appointed by Carter and Obama). This ruling was not partisan, considering how blatantly Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution.

Also today, Kellyanne Conway was “counseled” after she broke ethics rules in promoting Ivanka Trump’s products while speaking at the White House.

The White House on Thursday said a top adviser to President Trump had been “counseled” after using a television appearance from the West Wing to promote the clothing and jewelry line sold under the brand of Trump’s daughter…

Experts quickly seized on Conway’s remarks as a direct violation of Office of Government Ethics rules. Don W. Fox, a former OGE general counsel and now the office’s acting director, said Conway’s statements were “jaw-dropping” and “a clear violation of rules prohibiting misuse of public office for anyone’s private gain.”

Peter Schweizer, who has worked closely with Trump chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and wrote a book, “Clinton Cash,” that was critical of donations to the Clinton Foundation, said, “They’ve crossed a very, very important, bright line, and it’s not good.”

“To encourage Americans to buy goods from companies owned by the first family is totally out of bounds and needs to stop,” Schweizer added. “Clearly, the Trumps feel some of this is related to politics. But whether that’s true or not, these marketing battles need to be fought by Ivanka and her company. They cannot and should not be fought by government employees and the White House.”

I imagine that being  Conway being “counseled” is comparable to when Hillary Clinton was told that she should be using a government server for her email when she was found to be ignoring this rule. Hopefully Conway pays more attention. More importantly, hopefully the entire Trump administration pays more attention–perhaps starting with Donald Trump releasing his income tax returns.

Realistically this is a relatively trivial incident. If anything, being promoted by Conway might even further reduce Ivanka’s sales, which have been suffering by the poor opinion about her father. What is more important are the vast conflicts of interest present in the financial interests of Trump’s family (along with the financial interests of some of his cabinet appointees).

Most of the examples will probably turn out to be more mundane actions in which government actions might benefit Trump’s business holdings. One of the more interesting examples was repeated in the same article linked above:

The Conway episode followed other instances in which Trump’s political rise and his presidency have provided a promotional platform for the family businesses.

On Monday, first lady Melania Trump filed a lawsuit accusing a British news company of publishing an inaccurate story that hurt her ability to take advantage of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to build her brand of jewelry and accessories. The lawsuit said that the August 2016 article, which falsely suggested Melania Trump had once worked for an escort service, damaged her ability to build “multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term” and damaged her brand during a time when Trump “is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

Signs Democrats Are Rejecting The Gutter Politics Of David Brock & Peter Daou

One of the many downsides of Donald Trump’s election is having people like Steve Bannon working in the White House. However, if Clinton had won, we might have had people nearly as bad from Team Hillary such as Sidney Blumenthal, Peter Daou, and David Brock.

We learned during the email scandal that Hillary Clinton was receiving advice from Sydney Blumenthal, who also had conflicting business interests in Libya. Peter Daou continues to attack Bernie Sanders and his supporters on Facebook and Twitter, often directly naming “white males” as the enemy, failing to see anything wrong with attacks based upon gender and race. He has attributed any opposition to the policies or unethical conduct of Hillary Clinton as being based on sexism. Former Republican hit man David Brock, turned Clinton hit man utilizing the same unsavory tactics, is trying to promote himself as a leader of the Democratic opposition to Donald Trump.

During the election campaign, the activities of David Brock and Peter Daou to promote Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the topic of an article in The New York Times. They continued their gutter politics, directed towards Bernie Sanders and his supporter, after the election. Jeff Weaver responded to the attack:

The knives are out on the Democratic side after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, the first attacks have been launched by the experts on mudslinging against fellow Democrats: David Brock and those whose lease he holds like Peter Daou. Brock’s long history of character assassination and penchant for attacking those on the left continues…

Rather than face the very real challenge of remedying this situation, some have taken to blaming pollsters and data analysts for Hillary Clinton’s loss. After all, it’s much easier to bash those who didn’t see the wheels coming off the train rather than asking why the wheels were coming off in the first place.

Now we’re witnessing the scapegoating of Sanders and his supporters. Most of us knew this predictably lazy attack would come. Somehow, Senator Sanders is to blame because he brought millions into the Democratic Party process by articulating a positive vision of economic, racial, environmental and social justice…

Now he wants Democratic donors to replenish his coffers with millions for another round of mud-slinging. Hopefully, Democratic donors won’t let themselves be scammed again.

And hopefully, the Democratic Party re-establishes faith with the American working class in every zip code by authentically offering a bold and positive vision — a vision with no room for the ineffective gutter politics that benefit Mr. Brock and his friends.

There is hope that Democrats have learned their lesson and might be rejecting the gutter politics of Brock and Daou if this article from The Daily Beast is correct. Asawin Suebsaeng writes that Democrats are rejecting such a role for David Brock, with even some Clinton supporters now sick of Brock:

As David Brock attempts to position himself as a leader in rebuilding a demoralized Democratic Party in the age of Trump, many leading Democratic organizers and operatives are wishing the man would simply disappear.

Many in the party—Clinton loyalists, Obama veterans, and Bernie supporters alike—talk about the man not as a sought-after ally in the fight against Trumpism, but as a nuisance and a hanger-on, overseeing a colossal waste of cash. And former employees say that he has hurt the cause…

…many Democratic grassroots activists and campaign alums have been giving his proposed plans some stern side-eye.

“His ability to produce wins for Democrats is nonexistent,” Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, told The Daily Beast. “He does not have the kind of understanding of what kind of coalition you have to bring together to win national races—that’s his fundamental problem.”

During the 2016 election, Brock and his network positioned themselves as prominent allies to the Clinton campaign, generating opposition research, stunts, and ads against Trump, and supporting Clinton in the primary.

Brock bragged early last year that his team had assembled a mountain of damning oppo that could “knock Trump Tower down to the sub-basement.”

But Trump Tower still stands, and Brock’s groups failed to help Clinton to victory.

I would add that the dirty nature of Clinton’s campaigns is precisely one of the reasons that Clinton lost. While many (but not all) of the attacks on Trump from the Clinton camp were accurate, they were not enough to overcome Clinton’s own negatives. Trump managed to pull in enough votes in the rust belt with promises of jobs to win the election. Such talk about the issues, even if he probably cannot keep his promises, were more appealing than the negative message from the Clinton campaign, which failed to provide any positive arguments to vote for her other than her gender and the belief that it was her turn.

Suebsaeng continued:

It’s clear why Brock has acquired a long list of enemies on the more progressive corners of his own party. Brock’s political evolution is well-known: the former anti-Clinton right-winger who starting in the late 1990s transformed into a relentlessly pro-Clinton Democratic operative.

But the friction between Brock and Democrats is not merely limited to its more progressive faction—many alumni of Obama’s campaigns and White House, as well as Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 run, say they want Brock to stay far away from the Democrats’ future plans.

“I don’t think David Brock has been helpful to the party to date, and I don’t think he will be a big part of its future,” a former senior Clinton campaign official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s surprising that many other people don’t see it that way.”

Another senior 2016 Clinton aide, who asked not to be named because the ex-staffer did “not want to deal with Brock’s bullshit,” described Brock and his organizations in 2016 as “useless—you might as well have thrown those [tens of] millions of dollars down a well, and then set the well on fire.”

Two sources told The Daily Beast that in the last couple of months Brock and his team reached out to former Clinton campaign officials, including ex-national press secretary Brian Fallon, to join Brock’s new anti-Trump “war room.” All, however, declined the offer simply because “no one wants anything to do with him,” one source recalled. (Fallon did not respond to a request for comment.)

Other opinions expressed about Brock:

“I met with I’m a couple times—he’s fucking weird,” a former Obama administration official, who also requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “I felt like I was meeting Mugatu from Zoolander… I don’t know what the fuck [Brock’s network] did besides raise a ton of money, and I don’t think the after-action report on 2016 says we need more David Brock. Probably the opposite is true.”

And:

“He has a tendency to overstate his level of impact and importance,” a former operative of one of Brock’s organizations said. “There is a sense [in Brock’s own groups] that he cares less about progressive policies and moving the ball forward, and is actually more focused on stroking his ego.”

Another Democratic operative close to the Brock empire told The Daily Beast that the experience working with him only deepened suspicions that Brock cared more about himself than the liberal base or the party at large.

“Somewhere along the way, it became instead of putting the mission of American Bridge [or Media Matters] first, it became about putting him first, growing his power in the party—his popularity,” the operative said. “There’s no question that his groups were the least effective of 2016. If anything they did harm.”

The staffer concluded: “I have never worked somewhere with so much unlimited resources [where] I don’t think they’re used efficiently.”

If the Democrats are going to rebuild in time for the crucial 2020 elections, it is important that they stop acting like Republicans to give voters a reason to support them. Rejecting the gutter politics of people like David Brock is an important step.

Both Parties Tainted By Corruption

There are reasons to fear that the Trump administration might set new records for corruption in government, but before Democrats can claim the high moral ground they must recognize the corruption they have both tolerated and ignored from Bill and Hillary Clinton. Two stories today highlight these points.

First CNN, following attacks for spreading fake news by Donald Trump at his recent press conference, has broken some real news regarding one of his cabinet picks:

Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

In potentially related news, The New York Times has a lengthy account of Donald Trump chasing deals in Russia, contradicting the recent statement from his press secretary that, “Mr. Trump does not have any business dealings in/with Russia.”

Today there was also news with the closing of the Clinton Global Initiative to remind us of all the unsavory stories about the Clinton Foundation and how the Clintons have made a fortune selling influence:

…as soon as Clinton lost the election, many of the criticisms directed toward the Clinton Foundation were reaffirmed. Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work. In November, the Australian government confirmed it “has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million.” The government of Norway also drastically reduced their annual donations, which reached $20 million a year in 2015…

WikiLeaks revealed several criticisms of the Clinton Foundation were true, as pay-to-play schemes and the foundation’s corrupt management were exposed. On October 26, The Washington Post reported a memo detailed how the Clinton Foundation was used to boost Bill Clinton’s income.

“The memo, made public Wednesday by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, lays out the aggressive strategy behind lining up the consulting contracts and paid speaking engagements for Bill Clinton that added tens of millions of dollars to the family’s fortune, including during the years that Hillary Clinton led the State Department,” reported The Washington Post. “It describes how Band helped run what he called “Bill Clinton Inc.,” obtaining “in-kind services for the President and his family—for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like.”

The Clinton Foundation‘s downward trajectory ever since since Hillary Clinton’s election loss provides further testimony to claims that the organization was built on greed and the lust for power and wealth—not charity.

I previously posted about the material on the Clinton Foundation leaked by Wikileaks here. As I wrote in another previous post, Clinton unethically made rulings on multiple occasions regarding parties which contributed to the Foundation and/or made unprecedented payments for speeches to Bill Clinton. I’ve previously discussed the Clinton Foundation scandals in greater detail, including here and here. I’ve recently noted how both fact checkers and ethicists viewed the scandals and Clinton’s violations of the ethics agreements which she entered into before becoming Secretary of State, while Common Cause called for an independent audit of the Clinton Foundation well before her nomination.

I bet we will see plenty of rotten things under Trump, but we must not forget this record of corruption from two Democratic leaders.