Corruption scandal: Trump lawyer Cohen was ‘paid by Ukraine’ to arrange White House talks

May 25, 2018

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has been running a corrupt pay-to-play scheme, charging foreign governments and companies for access to the POTUS, according to a May 23 report by Paul Wood of the BBC.

In fact, the U.K.-based news outlet disclosed, Cohen received a secret payment of at least $400,000 to arrange talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Trump last June, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.

Cohen was contacted by the Ukraine, the sources told BBC’s Wood, because that nation’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington D.C. could get President Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with  Trump. Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.

And in a tit for tat fashion, shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home from those “talks” last June, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort—who has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his Russia investigation.

Cohen denies the allegations and is not registered as a representative of the Ukraine, as he should be under U.S. law, if he negotiated on their behalf, the BBC says.

However, in recent days, Trump’s “fixer” also has been accused of arranging secret access to the POTUS for U.S. telecom giant AT&T (which allegedly paid $200,000 to a shell company created by Cohen called Essential Consultants) and for Swiss pharmaceutical giant Norvartis (which paid $100,000 into the same account).

The Daily Dot reports that, in all, businesses and bodies politic paid $4.4 million into the Essential Consultants account in hopes of getting something in return from the new U.S. administration.

What’s more, this month, Trump, himself, reportedly made a suspicious deal—instructing the U.S. Commerce Department to help save China’s telecom company, ZTE, following an investment by a Chinese state-owned company, Metallurgical Corporation of China, in a project connected with the new Trump hotel and golf course in Indonesia.

Although Trump campaigned on promises of “draining the swamp” in Washington, a poll conducted by Transparency International at the end of 2017 found that the American public doesn’t think he is cleaning up the government. The results of the US Corruption Barometer 2017 show that:

  • 44% of Americans believe that corruption is pervasive in the White House, up from 36% in 2016;
  • 58% say the level of corruption has risen in the past year, up from 34% who said the same in January 2016;
  • Almost 70% believe the government is failing to fight corruption, up from 50% in 2016;
  • 55% gave fear of retaliation as the main reason not to report corruption, up from 31% in 2016; and
  • 74% think that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption, up 4 percentage points from 2016.

As news of Cohen’s pay-to-play dealings and Trump’s ties to his old business continues to come in, Americans are worried, according to Zoe Reiter, U.S. Representative at Transparency International.

Reiter commented, “There is a clear sense that people feel corruption has gotten worse. In January 2016, Americans were already distrustful of Washington. Last year, Congress fared the worst in this survey. This year, it is the White House, followed by Congress. Our elected officials are failing to build back trust in Washington’s ability to serve the people, and still appear to represent elite corporate interests.”

Research contact: linkedin.com/in/paul-wood-83a75427

Stacey Abrams wins big in Georgia

May 24, 2018

While the polls in Georgia officially closed at 7 p.m. on May 22, the window of opportunity for Democrat Stacey Abrams—the first black woman to win a gubernatorial nomination for any major party in that state—opened up, The Root reported.

With only 34% of the vote in that early in the evening, “everybody from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to CNN to Stevie Wonder” could see that Stacey Abrams’ 75% to 25% lead over fellow Democrat Stacey Evans wouldn’t disappear with a few more counties left to check in, The Root said.

The landslide had not been predicted. Back on April 19, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News released their latest polling numbers, more than half (52%) of likely Georgia Democratic voters still had not decided who would get their vote in next month’s primary election for governor. At that time, roughly one-third of likely Democratic voters said they backed Abrams; with Evans attracting about half of that, or 15% of the electorate.

According to The Root, Abrams’ victory not only puts Georgia on the map but heals an unnecessary and overblown wound in the Democratic Party, just in time for what might be a nation-changing, midterm election. Abrams secured the support of the two frontrunners in the last national Democratic primaries —Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Maine) and his Our Revolution advocates and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-New York).

However, the news outlet warned,”The work is only just beginning. There will a be tough race against either Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp [in November].”

Research contact: gbluestein@ajc.com

Chances look slimmer for Singapore summit

May 23, 2018

The budding détente between North Korea and the United States hung in the balance on May 22, as the Trump administration continued pushing Pyongyang to denuclearize as a condition of the scheduled meeting in Singapore on June 12 with the hermit kingdom’s Leader Kim Jong Un.

Meanwhile, according to a report by CNN, North Korea has released three strongly worded statements—slamming Seoul and Washington for their joint military maneuvers earlier in the month and demanding that South Korea take action against defectors it claimed were sending anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets across the border.

As tempers on both continents continued to flare, South Korean President Moon Jae In flew into Washington, DC, to meet with President Trump in an effort to salvage the summit.

But should the diplomatic deliberations even be saved?

Those in the know say the White House staff is balking—both because North Korea seems to already have taken denuclearization off the table; and because Trump has not taken the time or trouble to learn about the nuclear program, something necessary to have a substantive conversation.

South Koreans, however, blame Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton for the problems with the summit, according to The Washington Post.

Bolton has said that his goal is for the North Korean denuclearization process to go like the one that took place in Libya in 2003, when Colonel Muammar Gaddafi agreed to give up his country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. That didn’t end well for the Libyan leader, who eventually found himself in the midst of a coup that led to his capture and execution.

While Trump continues to hold firm on the denuclearization demands, about three-quarters of Americans (77%) approve of his original decision to meet with Kim Jong Un, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS and released on May 10.  Trump’s approval rating for handling the situation with North Korea has jumped ten points since late March.

At press time, there were no reports coming out of the POTUS’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae.

Research contact: @jgriffiths

Warner: Trump Tower meeting with Gulf envoys substantiates ‘larger pattern of concern’

May 22, 2018

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN on May 20 that Donald Trump Jr.’s alleged meeting at Trump Tower on August 3, 2016, with a Gulf emissary who offered help to his father’s presidential campaign could be “evidence of a larger pattern of concern.”

The meeting—which The New York Times disclosed on May 19—was supposedly arranged by former Blackwater head and Trump financial backer Erik Prince; and attended by the president’s eldest son; as well as George Nadar, an emissary for two princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; and Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel.

The Times further reported that Zamel talked about how his company could help a political campaign gain an advantage. According to the Times, the company had by then put together “a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.”

Donald Trump Jr. has said that he did not react to those offers of help from the Middle East. However, according to the Times report, “Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly … and … Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers—meeting frequently with … [the elder Trump’s son-in-law] Jared Kushner … and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser.”

The August meeting followed a June 2016 confab with a group of Russians that Trump Jr. at first had characterized as a discussion about adoption—but that has been shown by emails, leaks, and media reports to be an attempt by the presidential campaign staff to get dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

When news of the secret meeting with the Russians emerged a year afterward, a majority of U.S. voters polled by Politico/Morning Consult said that it was inappropriate for Donald Trump Jr. to accept an offer to meet with an attorney linked to the Russian government.”

Specifically, more than half (52%) said the meeting with a Russian government attorney was inappropriate. Only 23% of respondents characterized the meeting with a Russian government attorney as appropriate. The remaining 25% had no opinion.

I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent,” President Trump responded at that time—adding that it is “very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information.”

As information continues to come out about meetings with foreign intermediaries, Senator Warner said on Sunday, “”If the Times story is true, we now have at least a second and maybe a third nation that was trying to lean into this campaign,”

Warner said on CNN’s State of the Union. “I don’t understand what the president doesn’t get about the law that says if you have a foreign nation interfere in an American election, that’s illegal.”

Research contact: @maeganvaz

Few Americans read Trump’s tweets directly on Twitter

May 21, 2018

While 76% of Americans ultimately hear about @realDonaldTrump’s  tweets and the news they generate, few Americans say they read the POTUS’s tweets unfiltered, directly from Twitter (8%). Instead, most appear to read or learn about them indirectly, through either other social media or the broader news media, based on findings of a poll conducted by Gallup and released on May 16.

Trump views his use of Twitter as a way of sending unfiltered opinions and views directly to the public. In June 2017, Trump tweeted: “The FAKE MSM [mainstream media] is working so hard trying to get me not to use Social Media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out.”

However, just 26% of Americans have a Twitter account, and 30% of that group—or 8% of the overall U.S. population— personally follow the president’s official Twitter account.

The corollary of the finding that relatively few Americans read Trump’s tweets directly on Twitter is that most of those who say they see, read or hear a lot or a fair amount about his tweets (69%) are getting their information from a secondary source. Some of their access to his tweets could be relatively straightforward, such as when a friend forwards a tweet or when a tweet is reprinted directly in a publication and the person reads only the tweet. But Americans’ awareness of Trump’s tweets is more commonly the result of an indirect, filtered dissemination.

Interestingly enough, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they see, read, or hear a lot about Trump’s tweets (64% vs. 50%, respectively). Democrats also edge out Republicans when including those who read a fair amount of his tweets: 84% of Democrats see, read or hear about at least a fair amount of the president’s tweets, compared with 77% of Republicans (and 71% of independents).

The major difference between Republicans and Democrats is among those following Trump’s tweets without having a Twitter account.

In some ways, then, Twitter functions for Trump much like an old-fashioned press release or press conference statement. Few Americans see or read his tweets directly, but many ultimately hear about them via media coverage or other means.

Research contact: datainquiry@gallup.com

In focus group, only agreement is on Mueller

April 18, 2018

Donald Trump’s Republican base does not want the POTUS to fire Robert Mueller; but they will not protect the special counsel if the president does decide to boot him, based on findings of a focus group conducted as part of Emory University’s “Dialogue with America” by Peter D. Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster.

During the two-hour discussion among a dozen men and women—covered by The Washington Post— the Trump supporters in the group were adamant that they still agreed with Trump that the Russia investigation is “a witch hunt.”

However, both supporters and critics of the administration believed he should not axe the special counsel.

The Trump supporters had a variety of reasons, but they all thought that public perception of the president would tank if he tried to stop the investigation.

People would be suspicious,” Betsy Novak, 55, a greenhouse worker who voted for Trump said to the group, according to the Post.

It [would be] hiding something,” said Curt Hetzel, 48, a shipping and receiving manager who also voted for Trump.

Politically, it would be a terrible idea,” said yet another Trump backer, Sam Goldner, 25, a warehouse manager.

The focus group was held in  just outside Milwaukee, which the Post characterized as “ a perennial suburban swing area in a state that helped propel Trump to a surprise victory and is home to competitive Senate and gubernatorial contests this fall.”

Aside from the opinions on the Russia investigation, thoughts on the administration were split along political lines. “Partisan America is alive and well in Wisconsin,” Hart said, adding, “I felt that people are pretty frozen in place. The one thing they agreed with was Robert Mueller should not be fired. That’s about as close as they get to a unified position.”

Research contact: @PhilipRucker

Haspel confirmation appears likely

May 17, 2018

Gina Haspel’s nomination to the position of CIA director was approved (10-5) in a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee early on May 16, CBS News has reported. It now goes to the Senate floor, where confirmation appears likely—although many Americans are still questioning her values and qualifications.

Committee Chairman Senator Richard Burr, (R-North Carolina), said after the vote that Haspel represents the “most qualified person the President could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70 year history of the Agency.”

Vice Chairman Senator Mark Warner, D-Virginia, who originally  had expressed concern about Haspel’s history at the agency —during which she took the lead on harsh forms of interrogation, including waterboarding, used on al Qaeda detainees at one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons—stated that he believes Haspel will be a “strong advocate for the Agency’s workforce, and an independent voice who can and will stand up on behalf of our nation’s intelligence community.”

He added, “Most importantly, I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President if ordered to do something illegal or immoral – like a return to torture.”

However, Americans continue to be split on whether overseeing torture should disqualify Haspel from getting the joba HuffPost/YouGov survey of 1,000 U.S. citizens over the age of 18 finds.

Told that Haspel reportedly supervised a “black site” where CIA personnel tortured suspected terrorists to gain information, 20% say they consider that to be a good thing and 39% view it as a bad thing.

Just under a third consider that record sufficient reason for her not to be confirmed to head the CIA, while 36% say it is not.

Those polled appear more troubled by reports that Haspel also helped to destroy videotapes documenting the torture of detainees. By a 2-to-1 margin, 44 percent to 22 percent, they say those actions should disqualify her from becoming the CIA’s director.

The only Senate Republicans who are not expected to vote for her are Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Arizona’s John McCain, who is battling brain cancer and is not expected to be present for the ballot.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Trump policies create ‘abortion deserts’ across America

May 16, 2018

More than 60% of Americans think abortion should usually be legal—but it is getting harder to find a clinic that will supply such services since the Trump administration began to de-fund and delegitimize the procedure.

Indeed, according to a report by The Hill, Trump is scheduled to speak at the Susan B. Anthony List “Campaign for Life” gala on May 22—an anti-abortion event.

The POTUS already has taken steps targeting the right to abortion in American, including the so-called Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal funding of international organizations that discuss or offer referrals for abortion services.

In addition, about $300 million in Title X family planning money is in jeopardy in the United States right now, because Congressional Republicans are trying to ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services “has flexibility to change regulations governing how it is spent.”

Planned Parenthood, which annually receives about $60 million in Title X funds, may lose its second-largest financing stream as a result; and other programs also are going by the wayside.

It’s not just rural women who must travel long distances to get an abortion, Mother Jones reported on May 15. Researchers mapped out 780 abortion facilities across America in a new University of California  study out on May 14—and found that 27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider. The South and the Midwest have the largest “abortion deserts,” according to the study.

For instance, residents of Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia all are limited to one in-state abortion facility, researchers from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco found. The 27 “abortion deserts”—defined as major cities with populations over 50,000 where residents would have to travel 100 miles or more to get an abortion—include places like Chattanooga, Tennessee.; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Springfield, Missouri.

The worst major city for abortion access, the UC researchers said, is Rapid City, South Dakota, where women must travel 318 miles to get an abortion.

“We were able to see what the average person sees when they set out to seek abortion care,” Ushma Upadhyay, an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at UC San Francisco, and an author on the study, told Mother Jones in an email. “There are huge parts of the country where the distance to the closest provider poses a massive barrier to getting an abortion.”

In California, the team counted 152 abortion facilities, the largest number of any state. Maine had the greatest access per person, at one clinic for every 13,905 women. By contrast, Missouri, which already is known for its restrictive abortion laws, Mother Jones reports, has the worst abortion access of any continental state, at about 1.4 million women per facility.

“Access to transportation is a barrier for people seeking all types of health care, in both urban and rural settings,” the study’s authors write. “Lower-income women who are unable to access a car or money for gas may have to travel by bus, train, or other forms of transportation, which also becomes more difficult the farther they have to travel.”

There’s no clear solution on the horizon.

Research contact:  Ushma.Upadhyay@ucsf.edu

U.S. public balks, but Schumer lauds ‘exodus’ of embassy to Jerusalem

May 15, 2018

In a rare moment of agreement, President Donald Trump and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) seemed to be walking in lockstep on Monday, May 14 when the Majority Leader praised the administration for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, The Hill reported.

“In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem. Every nation should have the right to choose its capital,” Schumer said in a statement. “I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.”

But Schumer was not representing the views of many constituents, based on findings of a University of Maryland/Nielsen Scarborough poll of 2,000 American adults conducted late last year. Asked whether they supported or opposed the move of the U.S. embassy out of Tel Aviv, 63% of respondents said they were against it, including 44% of Republicans.

What’s more, a Monmouth University poll found that the president’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not all that popular with the American public. Just 23% told the pollsters that it was a good idea; versus 39%, who said it was a bad idea, (with 38% registering no opinion).

A majority (51%) of respondents told Monmouth that they thought the move would destabilize the Middle East region; while only 10% said that relocating the embassy would make the region more stable (and 28% say it will have no effect on the region’s stability).

The embassy’s official opening was marked by a bloody day on Israel’s border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, The Hill reported. And The New York Times reported that at least 41 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,700 injured at the border’s barrier.

Research contact: @malshelbourne

Kamala Harris co-sponsors Booker bill to legalize marijuana

May 14, 2018

Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) is joining another rising star in her party, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), to co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act, The Hill reported on May 10.

The federal legislation—introduced by Booker on August 1—would eliminate marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act. In addition, the bill would mandate that federal courts  expunge the records of Americans who have prior marijuana convictions related to use or possession.

“It’s the right thing to do. And I know this as a former prosecutor. I know it as a senator,” Harris said in a video announcing her decision. “I just look at what we want as a country and where we need to be instead of where we’ve been.

“African-Americans use marijuana at roughly the same rate as whites, but are approximately four times more likely to be arrested for possession,” Harris said in the same Now This  exclusive posting. “The fact is, marijuana laws are not applied and enforced the same way for all people.”

Harris believes the move to decriminalize marijuana will prevent the Justice Department from enforcing laws that are “unjust and unfair.”

“The war on drugs was a war on communities,” Harris said, adding that police should be dealing with more serious drugs and crimes. “Not somebody smoking a joint.”

Harris follows New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D, who announced on February 14 that she would co-sponsor the act with Booker. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) backs the bill as well.

According to the report by The Hill, so far, nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the drug for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Michigan will hold a vote to legalize recreational pot this year, potentially making it the tenth state and first in the Midwest to legalize pot.

Based on findings of an April 26 poll by Quinnipiac University, American voters support percent legalizing marijuana  nationwide by a margin of  63% to 33% . Support for use of medical marijuana is 93% from coast to coast.

Fully 70% of U.S. registered voters also oppose enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Research contact: peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu