Trump’s tax returns can be released to Congress, Justice Department says

August 2, 2021

The Treasury Department should hand over former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats, the Justice Department said on Friday, July 29, according to a report by Bloomberg Law.

In a written opinion,  the DOJ ruled that, “the Secretary of the Treasury (“Secretary”) “shall furnish” such information to any of the three congressional tax committees—the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the Joint Committee on Taxation—“[u]pon written request from the chairman” of one of those committees.”

More specifically, the 39-page opinion stated, “We conclude that the [Treasury] Secretary must comply with the Ways and Means Committee’s June 16, 2021 request” for the tax returns and related tax information.

That decision reverses a 2019 opinion that the Treasury Department should not release the returns, which “rested upon the assertion that the Committee was disingenuous about its true objective in seeking President Trump’s tax information.”

According to Bloomberg Law, the Biden Administration has repeatedly delayed its response in court to a lawsuit seeking six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Lawyers for Trump, who have intervened in the suit filed by lawmakers, said in January they’d almost certainly seek to block the handover in court, making it unlikely that Democrats will get access to the documents anytime soon.

The court case is part of a multi-pronged legal effort by House Democrats to gain access to the returns, after Trump became the first president in modern history not to release them to the public. This case dates to 2019, when the House Ways and Means Committee sued to compel then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to hand over the tax records. Under Trump, the Justice Department fought subpoenas issued by the committee, which filed a lawsuit.

Other lawsuits over the president’s tax records involving his accountants and bankers reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that Congress could not compel disclosure, at least for the time being. Those cases were sent back to the lower courts to assess whether lawmakers should narrow the scope of the information they sought.

The court has granted the district attorney in Manhattan, Cyrus Vance, access to Trump’s tax records as part of a criminal investigation into the former president’s business dealings. It’s unclear whether Vance will make those documents public.

In September 2020, The New York Times cited previously undisclosed returns in reporting that Trump had claimed chronic losses for years as a way to avoid taxes. He paid $750 in federal income tax in 2016, and paid no taxes at all in ten of the previous 15 years, the newspaper reported.

The case is Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 19-cv-1974, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Research contact: @bloomberglaw

Trump throws hissy fit as GOP moves forward on infrastructure deal

July 30, 2021

Former President Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Republicans on Thursday, July 29,  after the upper chamber voted to take up debate on a bipartisan infrastructure packageaccusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and “RINOs,” short for “Republicans in name only,” of surrendering to Democrats, reports The Hill.

“Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose,” Trump said in a statement. “He lost Arizona, he lost Georgia, he ignored Election Fraud and he doesn’t fight. 

“Now he’s giving Democrats everything they want and getting nothing in return,” the former president continued. “No deal is better than a bad deal. Fight for America, not for special interests and Radical Democrats. RINOs are ruining America, right alongside Communist Democrats.”

The former president’s attack on his party’s Senate leadership came a day after lawmakers voted 67-32 to greenlight a debate on the infrastructure deal, which includes $1.2 trillion for projects such as roads, bridges, public transit and broadband internet. The $1.2 trillion includes $579 billion in new spending.

While the infrastructure deal still faces a series of legislative hurdles, Wednesday’s vote was seen as a major win for President Joe Biden, who had championed the negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things. As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future,” Biden said in a statement. 

The vote is also likely to raise questions about Trump’s influence over the policymaking process in his post-presidency. Prior to Wednesday’s vote, he had pushed Republicans to reject a deal with Democrats, saying that the compromise is “a loser for the USA, a terrible deal, and makes the Republicans look weak, foolish, and dumb.”

“It shouldn’t be done,” he said. “It sets an easy glidepath for Dems to then get beyond what anyone thought was possible in future legislation.”

Research contact: @thehill

DOJ declines to defend Trump ally in lawsuit over January 6 insurrection

July 29, 2021

The U.S. Department of Justice declined on Tuesday, July 27, to defend a congressional ally of former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit accusing them both of inciting supporters at a rally in the hours before the January 6 storming of the Capitol, reports The New York Times.

Law enforcement officials determined that Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) was acting outside the scope of his duties in an incendiary speech just before the attack, according to a court filing. Brooks had asked the department to certify that he was acting as a government employee during the rally; had it agreed to defend him, he would have been dismissed from the lawsuit and the United States substituted as a defendant.

“The record indicates that Brooks’s appearance at the January 6 rally was campaign activity, and it is no part of the business of the United States to pick sides among candidates in federal elections,” the Justice Department wrote.

The DOJ added, “Members of Congress are subject to a host of restrictions that carefully distinguish between their official functions, on the one hand, and campaign functions, on the other.”What’s more, the Justice Department’s decision shows it is likely to also decline to provide legal protection for former President Trump in the lawsuit, The New York Times said.

According to the Times, legal experts have closely watched the case because the Biden Justice Department has continued to fight for granting immunity to. Trump in a 2019 defamation lawsuit where he denied allegations that he raped the writer E. Jean Carroll and said she accused him to get attention.

Such a substitution provides broad protections for government officials and is generally reserved for government employees sued over actions that stem from their work. In the Carroll case, the department cited other defamation lawsuits as precedent.

The Brooks decision also ran counter to the Justice Department’s longstanding broad view of actions taken in the scope of a federal employee’s employment, which has served to make it harder to use the courts to hold government employees accountable for wrongdoing.

Brooks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for the House also said on Tuesday that they declined to defend Brooks in the lawsuit. Given that it “does not challenge any institutional action of the House,” a House lawyer wrote in a court filing, “it is not appropriate for it to participate in the litigation.”

The lawsuit, filed in March by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-California) accuses Mr. Brooks of inciting a riot and conspiring to prevent a person from holding office or performing official duties.

Swalwell accused Brooks, Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr,. and his onetime personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani of playing a key role in inciting the January 6. attack during a rally near the White House in the hours before the storming of the Capitol.

Citing excerpts from their speeches, Swalwell accused the men of violating federal law by conspiring to prevent an elected official from holding office or from performing official duties, arguing that their speeches led Trump’s supporters to believe they were acting on orders to attack the Capitol.

Swalwell alleged that their speeches encouraged Trump’s supporters to unlawfully force members of Congress from their chambers and destroy parts of the Capitol to keep lawmakers from performing their duties.

During the rally, Brooks told attendees that the United States was “at risk unlike it has been in decades, and perhaps centuries.” He said that their ancestors “sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives” for the country.

“Are you willing to do the same?” he asked the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Mr. Swalwell said defendants in his lawsuit had incited the mob and had continued to stoke false beliefs that the election was stolen.

“As a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the defendants’ express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol,” Swalwell said in his complaint. “Many participants in the attack have since revealed that they were acting on what they believed to be former President Trump’s orders in service of their country.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Nancy Pelosi names Adam Kinzinger to January 6 Committee

July 27, 2021

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) announced on Sunday morning, July 25, that she intends to name another Republican to the House select committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol insurrection—saying her “plan” was to choose Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), reports The Daily Beast.

Last week, Pelosi made the unprecedented move of rejecting two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s appointments to the committee; claiming the inclusion of Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Indiana) was “ridiculous” —and that they “wouldn’t take the process seriously.”

Both congressmen have been vocal supporters of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and objected to Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory, The Daily Beast says.

McCarthy, meanwhile, pulled the other three Republicans he had recommended for the committee over Pelosi’s rejection of Jordan and Banks, leaving Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming)—whom Pelosi herself had appointed to the group—as the only Republican. Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection, was recently booted from her GOP leadership position for pushing back against Trump’s election lies.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Pelosi said her confidence was “very high” that the committee’s work would be seen as credible despite Republicans’ refusal to participate in the process.

“I believe the work of this committee, in order to retain the confidence of the American people, must act in a way that has no partisanship, is all about patriotism and I’m very proud of the members of the committee and I’m certain they will accomplish that goal,” the Speaker said, adding, “We have to, again, ignore the antics of those who do not want to find the truth.”

Anchor George Stephanopoulos then asked Pelosi if she intended to appoint more Republicans to the committee, specifically singling out Kinzinger, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s stolen election rhetoric.

“That’s my plan,” she replied, prompting the ABC News host to wonder aloud when she’d make that announcement.

“Perhaps after I speak to Adam Kinzinger,” she declared. “You could say that that’s the direction that I would be going on.”

Hours after Pelosi’s on-air remarks, Kinzinger’s place on the committee was made official. “He brings great patriotism to the Committee’s mission: to find the facts and protect our Democracy,” Pelosi said of the Illinois congressman in a statement announcing his appointment.

Kinzinger, for his part, said in a statement that he “humbly accepted” the appointment and that he “will work diligently to ensure we get to the truth and hold those responsible for the attack fully accountable.”

Just like Cheney, Kinzinger voted to impeach the ex-president over his role in inciting a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol in order to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s election win. The Illinois congressman and Cheney also were the only House Republicans to vote for the formation of the January 6 select committee, which was formed after the GOP blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the attack.

Research contact: @TheDailyBeast

Democrats blast FBI as new details of ‘sham’ Kavanaugh inquiry emerge

July 26, 2021

A group of Democratic senators is demanding more answers from the FBI after the agency revealed new details about the limited scope of its supplemental investigation into Brett Kavanaugh‘s background when he was a nominee for the Supreme Court in 2018, NBC News reports.

In a letter sent on Wednesday, June 30 to Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware)—but only made public on Thursday, July 22Jill Tyson, assistant director of the FBI’s Congressional Affairs Office acknowledged that the department conducted only 10 additional interviews in its supplemental investigation, even though it had received over 4,500 tips.

Tyson said “relevant tips” from phone calls and messages were forwarded to the White House counsel’s office. It’s unclear what became of the tips after that.

Whitehouse, who had written then-FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for details about the inquiry, said, “This long-delayed answer confirms how badly we were spun by Director Wray and the FBI in the Kavanaugh background investigation and hearing.”

While Wray has said the FBI followed tip line procedures, “he meant the ‘procedure’ of doing whatever Trump White House counsel told them to do,” Whitehouse tweeted, adding, “That’s misleading as hell.”

A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Then-President Donald Trump tasked the FBI with conducting a supplemental background investigation into Kavanaugh at the urging of some Republican senators after his nomination to the high court in 2018 was endangered by sexual misconduct allegations dating to his high school and college years. Kavanaugh repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

“As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” Trump said at the time.

Republicans said the subsequent FBI report vindicated Kavanaugh, while Democrats maintained that it was incomplete. NBC News reported at the time that the FBI hadn’t contacted over 40 people with potential information about the sexual misconduct allegations.

The Senate confirmed the nomination in a narrow 50-48 vote.

Attorneys for the accuser who testified at Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, Christine Blasey Ford, said in a statement that the FBI letter confirmed that the agency’s investigation was “a sham and a major institutional failure.”

“Because the FBI and Trump’s White House Counsel hid the ball on this, we do not know how many of those 4,500 tips were consequential, how many of those tips supported Dr. Ford’s testimony, or how many showed that Kavanaugh perjured himself during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said the lawyers, Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks. “Our nation deserved better.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Federal judge blocks Arkansas’ near-total abortion ban

July 22, 2021

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has issued a preliminary injunction to put a halt to an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions in the state, as she considers a lawsuit disputing its constitutionality, Axios reports. The measure was set to take effect on July 28.

The law—passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed in March—would have banned nearly all abortions in Arkansas—with no exceptions for rape or incest. The only variance to the law would be made if a pregnant person’s life were danger.

Baker said in her ruling that the law was “categorically unconstitutional” as it would ban abortions when the fetus is not considered viable, according to the Associated Press.

“Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the Court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief,” she wrote.

 “We’re relieved that the court has blocked another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans’ deeply personal medical decisions,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, which filed the suit with Planned Parenthood.

Research contact: @Axios

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy makes picks for January 6 panel

July 21, 2021

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) has chosen five Republican lawmakers to serve on the Democrat-led select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, ahead of the panel’s first hearing later this month, The Wall Street Journal reports.

McCarthy tapped Representative Jim Banks (R-Indiana), chair of the Republican Study Committee, a group of the most conservative House Republicans, to serve as the select committee’s top-ranking GOP member.

Among his other selections are the following:

According to the Journal, the House voted largely along party lines late last month to establish the select committee to investigate the events of January 6, when Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building and temporarily interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral-college victory.

Senate Republicans blocked an effort earlier this year to set up a bipartisan, independent commission—saying Democrats would weaponize it against Republican candidates in 2022.

McCarthy said he deliberately chose a mix of members: Banks, Jordan, and Nehls voted to overturn Arizona and Pennsylvania’s electoral results on January 6, while Davis and Armstrong voted to certify Biden’s win in those states. None of them voted to impeach Trump.

“You’ve got a mix from the entire conference, right? So people who objected and who didn’t object” to the electoral-college results, McCarthy said. “The mission is to make the facts—to never put the Capitol Police, or this Capitol, in this position again.”

McCarthy, who met with Trump last week, added: “I didn’t talk to Donald Trump about this.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Trump fanatic Paul Hodgkins sentenced to eight months in first felony Capitol riot case

July 20, 2021

Paul Hodgkins, a Florida man who invaded the Senate chamber holding a Trump flag on January 6, was sentenced to eight months in prison followed by 24 months of supervised release on Monday, July 19, in the first felony sentencing in connection with the Capitol insurrection, HuffPost reports.

Hodgkins, who wore a Trump T-shirt during the riot, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding. Four other charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Prosecutors requested an 18-month sentence for Hodgkins, saying that he made the wrong decision at several points:

  • In Florida, when he packed up the gear he’d bring into the Capitol building;
  • On January 6, when he left the Trump rally early and headed to the Capitol;
  • That same day, when he unlawfully entered the Capitol grounds;
  • A short time later, when he illegally entered the Capitol building; and
  • When he entered the Senate chamber.

Hodgkins’ team asked for a probationary sentence, saying that the court should bring the country together by showing leniency and forgiveness. Hodgkins’ lawyer said in a filing that the court should follow the path that former President Abraham Lincoln had planned before his assassination and seek to bring the country together.

“The Court has a chance to emulate Lincoln. We have the chance to be as Lincoln had hoped, to exercise grace and charity, and to restore healing for those who seek forgiveness,” attorney Patrick Leduc wrote. “Alternatively, we can follow the mistakes of our past: to be harsh, seek vengeance, retribution, and revenge, and continue to watch the nation go down its present regrettable path.”

According to the HuffPost, Hodgkins, 38, is the third defendant sentenced in the Capitol attack. Two prior defendants had been sentenced on misdemeanor charges. More than 500 people have been arrested in connection with the Janiaru 6 Capitol attack, and hundreds more arrests are still in the works. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky said that Hodgkins participated in the grave danger to our democracy, and that both Capitol staffers and law enforcement personnel who fought off rioters will “bear emotional scars for many years, if not forever.”

Sedky said that “January 6 was an act of domestic terrorism” and that Hodgkins was flouting his disrespect for the law, and that there is a need to promote respect for the law and deter future potential criminals for engaging in such conduct.

“He willingly joined the fray, and he steadfastly remained a part of it,” Sedky said, nothing that a significant sentence would send a “loud and clear message” to potential rioters thinking about a “sequel to the January 6 attack/”

Hodgkins told the judge he was “truly remorseful” and regretful of what he did on January 6. He said he made a “foolish decision” and allowed himself to put his “passion” before his “principles.”

“I came to D.C. with the intention of supporting a president I loved,” Hodgkins said. “The storming of the U.S. Capitol building is not something I had any idea would happen.”

Hodgkins said he does “realize that my involvement did still contribute to the greater problem that took place.” He also said he recognizes that President Joe Biden is “rightfully and respectfully the president of the United States.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

Two men charged with conspiracy to attack Democratic HQ in Sacramento

july 19, 2021

On July 16, federal authorities announced they had arrested two men in California who allegedly wanted to organize a movement to overthrow the government—and who had discussed blowing up the Democratic headquarters in Sacramento—in a new, major case of would-be domestic terrorists motivated by former President Donald Trump’s election defeat, CNN reports.

Five days before the presidential inauguration on January 20—which prosecutors believe was to be a key date in the planning of the attack—the Justice Department apprehended one of the men, who had amassed a large arsenal. Ian Benjamin Rogers, 45, of Napa, California, showed strong support for White supremacy and for Trump, and said in text messages he realized he would be labeled a domestic terrorist, according to Justice Department court filings.

A man Rogers communicated with, Jarrod Copeland, 37, of Vallejo, California, was arrested in Sacramento this week, DOJ said.

According to CNN, court records citing extensive encrypted messages between Rogers and Copeland raise the alarm of how the men sought to inspire domestic terrorism toward Democrats—and how their anti-government motivations may still persist.

In January, Rogers had told Copeland, “I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” and Copeland responded in agreement, writing, “Plan attack.”

The pair discussed “war” after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Justice Department said. They also discussed attacking George Soros, a billionaire donor who supports liberal causes; and Twitter, which by then had removed Trump from the social media platform.Enter your email to sign up for CNN’s “What Matters” newsletter.”I hope 45 goes to war if he doesn’t I will,” Rogers allegedly wrote.

The larger idea, the FBI and prosecutors say, was for Rogers to become violent near where he lived, to prompt others into similar actions nationwide, according to the court record.

Both men are charged with conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used or in affecting interstate commerce.

Rogers also faces weapons charges after investigators found 49 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and five pipe bombs at his home and business in January, shortly after they discussed the plan but before January 20, according to court records. One of the guns, investigators noted, appeared to be a replica of a fully automatic machine gun that Nazi troops had used during World War II, according to a charging document for Rogers. Rogers told investigators after his arrest the pipe bombs were for “entertainment.”

Secret Service intel briefings ahead of January 6 concluded there was no indication of civil disobedience

Rogers and Copeland are currently being held in custody and have yet to be arraigned, and a federal prosecutor said Thursday they remain a threat. “All of the political and social conditions that motivated them to plan what they themselves described as a terrorist attack remain,” the prosecutor write in a court filing.

Rogers’ attorney declined to comment, and it was not immediately clear if Copeland had a lawyer. Copeland is due in court in San Francisco on July 20.

Prosecutors, national security officials and politicians have warned that after Trump and his allies ramped up his lies of a stolen election in November and after a mob of hundreds of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, their inflammatory rhetoric could lead to violence.

An FBI agent specializing in domestic terrorism wrote in court about the messages, “I believe that these latter messages indicate Rogers’ belief that Trump (“45″) actually won the presidential election and should ‘go to war’ to ensure he remained in power.”

Prosecutors also say Rogers had written to Copeland months before, in November, that he wanted to “hit the enemy in the mouth” with homemade explosives attacking the Governor’s Mansion and the Democratic headquarters building in Sacramento, according to DOJ.

Copeland had told Rogers he was in touch with an anti-government militia group and also had made contact with a militia leader after Rogers’ arrest, who advised him to delete his communications, which he allegedly did, the Justice Department also said.

In various searches, investigators found Copeland had rifles, a “go bag” with a helmet, elbow and knee pads, ammunition magazines and zip tie handcuffs, and anabolic steroids.

The zip ties, prosecutors say, were intended for the men’s plot. “The fact that he still had them six months later indicates that he still believed a situation would arise where he would need to take prisoners,” a Justice Department court filing said. “His sentiments are deeply felt and long-standing and reflect a belief that the government is illegitimate. He is not likely to obey rules imposed on him by someone he views as part of a tyrannical government.”

Prosecutors note that Copeland served in the military but had deserted in 2016 under an “other than honorable” discharge.

“It doesn’t matter for our purposes whether the steroids make Copeland more violent and aggressive, or he seeks out steroids because he tends to be more violent and aggressive. Either way, he is a greater danger to the community,” prosecutors noted about the steroids.

At first, CNN reports, Rogers’ idea was to use Molotov cocktails and gasoline, and his a “first target” of the governor’s mansion, because he believed it was empty and there would be no casualties. “Would send a message,” Rogers allegedly wrote to Copeland, according to the court record. “That’s the best target I think too,” Copeland responded.

Prosecutors say Rogers then decided to change the target to the Democratic headquarters building in Sacramento. The two men allegedly made plans over the next two months, prosecutors say. The discussed pipe bombs and gallons of gasoline, among other violence at the building, according to their messages included in court records.

Research contact: @CNN