SCOTUS rejects Trump bid to block New York subpoena seeking his financial and tax records

July 10, 2020

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court on July 9 rejected President Donald Trump’s bid to block the Manhattan District Attorney from enforcing a subpoena seeking years of his financial and tax records from his accountants—and potentially opening the president up to widespread scrutiny.

The case was one of two before the high court—brought separately by New York County and the U.S. Congress—in which the president challenged subpoenas that weren’t sent to him, but instead to his accountants and bankers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Trump has been highly protective of his financial records. He is the only major-party presidential candidate in recent elections not to release his tax returns to the public.

Overall, the justices said that the New York prosecutor was entitled to access the president’s personal financial information—but dropkicked the decision on whether several committees of Congress should receive the records to a lower court.

Among the subpoenas under scrutiny:

Deutsche Bank since 1998 has led or participated in loans of at least $2.5 billion to companies affiliated with Trump, the Journal noted.

The Intelligence Committee said it needed the information as part of its probe of foreign influence in the U.S. political process, including whether foreigners have financial leverage over the Trump family and its enterprises. The Financial Services Committee is investigating bank-lending practices, including to Mr. Trump and his businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) immediately commended the ruling in the consolidated cases of Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Deutsche Bank., saying, “A careful reading of the Supreme Court rulings related to the president’s financial records is not good news for President Trump.The Court has reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people, as it asks for further information from the Congress.”

In turn, the Journal said, Trump argued that House committees infringed on his prerogatives as chief executive, and that the U.S. Constitution prohibits state prosecutors from subpoenaing records of a sitting president.

However, SCOTUS already had gone on-record about such prerogatives: In 1974, the Supreme Court required President Nixon to obey a subpoena for tapes and other records related to the Watergate investigation. In 1997, the court likewise ordered President Clinton to comply with a private lawsuit brought against him over sexual harassment allegations.

House investigators and state prosecutors argued that the burdens on Trump were minor compared to those cases, as the subpoenas were directed to third parties and the president need do nothing in response.

Lower courts upheld the subpoenas for the Trump records, but they have been blocked during the Supreme Court appeal.

Research contact: @WSJ

CNN exclusive: Vindman to retire; blames White House campaign of bullying and retaliation

July 9, 2020

You talk, you walk: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman—a key witness in Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry—is retiring from the U.S. Army after more than 21 years of military service because he believes that his future in the armed forces “will forever be limited” due to political retaliation by the president and his allies, his lawyer told CNN exclusively Wednesday, July 8.

Vindman has endured a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” spearheaded by the president following his testimony in the impeachment inquiry last year, according to his attorney, Ambassador David Pressman.

Vindman delivered explosive testimony during public impeachment hearings that Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden was “inappropriate” and that he knew “without hesitation” that he had to report it.

Vindman said that he reported his concerns out of a “sense of duty,” and he defended his fellow witnesses from what he described as “reprehensible” attacks.

News of Vindman’s retirement marks the culmination of a months-long saga dating back to his public testimony in November, CNN said.

Trump fired Vindman as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council in February and also ousted his twin brother who also played a key role in impeachment proceedings while serving at the White House as an NSC lawyer.

In recent weeks, the controversy has centered around allegations that the White House was attempting to block Vindman’s upcoming military promotion to the rank of colonel.

“The President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” Pressman said in a statement to CNN.

“These are choices that no one in the United States should confront, especially one who has dedicated his life to serving it,” he added, noting that Vindman “did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the President and his proxies.”

Top Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have insisted that Vindman is not being targeted for political reasons, but a source familiar with his decision said military officials have communicated to Vindman that the White House has sought to become involved in the promotion process.

In response, Vindman was told that that there have been discussions within the Department of Defense about sending his name forward on a “list of one” or holding his name back until after the election to avoid impacting the promotions of other service members, the source said.

It is “absurd and frightening” for the White House to be involved in promotions at this level, the source added.

Research contact: @CNN

Trump Administration: Reopen college campuses or lose your international students

July 8, 2020

From the University of Florida to Northern Arizona University to Cal State, many institutions of higher learning have not so much chosen to go digital this fall—as have been forced to, by health concerns for staff and students during the spread of COVID-29. Even Harvard University will deliver lectures online to all classes but those for incoming freshmen.

However, in another invective against immigration, the Trump Administration has prohibited international students from taking their classes fully online. The new guidance could force colleges and universities to offer in-person classes during the pandemic to keep their international students enrolled, Politico reports.

The risky policy was introduced as “a temporary final rule” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday, July 6.

According to Politico, the changes apply to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program for non-immigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas for academic and vocational coursework. The State Department won’t issue visas to students in online-only programs and Customs and Border Protection will not allow these students to enter the country, according to the press release.

If their school shifts online, international students in the United States will have to leave the country or transfer to a school with some in-person learning.

While colleges and universities wanted more clarity on how to keep their international students enrolled, the new guidance will “sow confusion and ncertainty,” Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education (ACE), told the news outlet. “There’s going to be a scramble for interpretation and colleges will be craving that certainty and they’ll be asking the U.S. government to help clarify to get additional details on interpretation.”

In concert with the press release, Politico noted, President Donald Trump and FLOTUS Melania Trump planned to participate in a “National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools” at 3 p.m. in the East Room at the White House on Tuesday, July 7. On Monday, Trump tweeted: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”

The president later followed up with a jab at former Vice President Joe Biden and Democrats, tweeting that they “don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also hopped on Twitter, and agreed with Trump, adding: “Learning must continue for all students. American education must be fully open and fully operational this fall!”

Research contact: @politico

Trump defends Confederate flag in latest appeal to white voters

July 7, 2020

President Donald Trump—who posted a video of one of his supporters whooping the phrase, “White Power,” just last week on Twitter—spent Monday morning, July 6, bashing NASCAR’s decision to prohibit Confederate flags at its races; while also falsely asserting that a top Black driver, Darrell (Bubba) Wallace, had engaged in a hoax involving a noose found in his garage stall.

Trump’s reference to the Confederate flag—and its role in a sport followed by the mostly white fans among whom the president remains popular—was “the latest remark by the president as he tries to rally his culturally conservative base behind his struggling re-election effort,” The New York Times reported.

While NASCAR and other organizations have moved to retire symbols of the Confederacy, and lawmakers in Mississippi voted to bring down the state flag featuring the Confederate emblem, Trump has increasingly used racist language and references to portray himself as a protector of the history of the American South. He has called the phrase “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate,” and he has repeatedly tried to depict pockets of violence during protests against entrenched racism as representative of the protest movement as a whole.

The president also delivered official speeches over the weekend that also emphasized defending American heritage, although he avoided explicit references to totems of the Confederacy.

“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter on Monday.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina and a friend of the president, departed from his usual praise on Monday, saying that he disagreed with Trump’s tweet.

“They’re trying to grow the sport,” Graham said, according to the CNN reporter Manu Raju, referring to NASCAR’s ban on confederate flags, which it announced last month. “And I’ve lived in South Carolina all my life and if you’re in business, the Confederate flag is not a good way to grow your business.”

Graham, who is facing a strong challenge from Jaime Harrison, a Black Democrat, in his re-election bid, according to the Times, said that “one way you grow the sport is you take images that divide us and ask that they not be brought into the venue. That makes sense to me.” He said that Mr. Wallace does not have “anything to apologize for,” and that his fellow drivers should be applauded for supporting him.

“I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude more than being worried about it being a hoax,” Graham said, according to Mr. Raju.

The noose incident last month at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama came to an end after  F.B.I. officials, who were called in by NASCAR, found that the knot had been tied into the rope as early as October 2019, well before anyone would have known that Mr. Wallace would be assigned that stall for the race.

Another NASCAR driver, Tyler Reddick, replied to Trump on Twitter Monday, saying, “We don’t need an apology. We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.”

According to the Times, Trump’s tweet came just days after he delivered a divisive speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota as part of the July 4 holiday, in which he denounced Democrats as radical anarchists and said that children are taught in schools to “hate” the United States.

“Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” the presient said in what was clearly a campaign speech.

Research contact: @nytimes

Report: For three months, White House blocked CDC from briefing Americans on COVID-19

July 6, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was denied permission by the White House to brief the public about the coronavirus crisis, a source at the agency told Yahoo News. 

As a result, the CDC found itself unable to do public briefing for three months—from March 9 through June 12—starting not long after a senior official warned in late February that the virus was likely to hit hard nationwide, Business Insider reports.

As the coronavirus swept across America, it was the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence, and fronted with increasing frequency by President Donald Trump, that took the lead in briefing the public about the crisis.

Earlier in the year the CDC had given frequent briefings on the pandemic. But then it fell abruptly silent.

A CDC spokesperson, speaking anonymously to Yahoo, confirmed that the agency “slowly but surely took a backseat” to the coronavirus task force.

“We continued to ask for approval” from the White House to hold briefings, the CDC spokesperson told Yahoo News. “We were not given approval. Finally, we just stopped asking.” 

In a briefing on February 25, Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), had issued a stark warning about the likely impact of the disease.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen,” she said.

The message contrasted sharply with Trump’s attempts at the time to downplay the likely impact of the disease, Business Insider said.

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

A task force member told Yahoo that the CDC was too concerned with its own stature, and an interagency response to the crisis was required. “The CDC feels like they should be in charge of this,” remarked

Research contact: @YahooNews

Trump has an Achilles heel—and Democratic advertisers finally know how to use it to advantage

July 3, 2020

After more than a year of polling, focus groups, and message testing against the president, there’s a growing consensus about what damages Trump —and what doesn’t, David Siders of Politico reports.

Indeed, President Donald Trump wasn’t even halfway through his May 20 speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when Democratic advertisers in Washington, D.C. and New York knew they had struck gold: They didn’t focus on the president’s rants about descending a ramp at West Point. or drinking a small glass of water with two hands—or even on his use of the term, Kung Flu, to describe the pandemic.

Instead, Politico notes, they ads zeroed in on Trump’s admission that he urged officials to “slow the [coronavirus] testing down.”

It’s a reflection of a growing consensus among Democrats about what kind of hits on Trump are most likely to persuade swing voters — and which ones won’t. As in 2016, ad makers are focusing on Trump’s character. But unlike four years ago, they are no longer focusing on his character in isolation. Rather, they are pouring tens of millions of dollars into ads yoking his behavior to substantive policy issues surrounding the coronavirus, the economy, and the civil unrest since the death of George Floyd.

“You can’t chase the Trump clown car,” said Bradley Beychok, president of the progressive group American Bridge 21st Century PAC, which claims to be “the largest opposition research, video tracking, and rapid response organization in Democratic politics.”

“Him drinking water and throwing a glass is goofy and may make for a good meme, but it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things … What people care about is this outbreak.”

How does he know? In their preparations for 2020, outside Democratic groups spent more than a year surveying voters in swing states by phone and online. They convened in-person focus groups and enlisted voters in swing states to keep diaries of their media consumption.

Multiple outside groups said they began to test their ads more rigorously than in 2016, using online panels to determine how likely an ad was to either change a viewer’s impression of Trump or to change how he or she planned to vote. Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC, alone expects to test more than 500 ads this cycle. Priorities, American Bridge, and other outside groups, including organized labor, have been meeting regularly to share internal research and media plans.

“One thing we saw in polling a lot before the coronavirus outbreak is that people didn’t think he was a strong leader or a good leader, they complained about his Twitter,” Nick Ahamed, analytics director at Priorities USA, told Politico. “But they had a hard time connecting those character flaws they saw in him with their day-to-day experience.”

Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and recent protests, he said, “really made concrete for people the ways in which his leadership has direct consequences on them and their loved ones … It’s easier to make ads that talk about his leadership than before the outbreak.”

The advertising elements that appear to work, according to Politico’s interviews with more than a dozen Democrats involved in message research, vary from ad to ad. Using Trump’s own words against him often tests well, as do charts and other graphics, which serve to highlight Trump’s distaste for science. Voters who swung from President Barack Obama to Trump in 2016—and who regret it—are good messengers.

And so is Joe Biden, whose voice is widely considered preferable to that of a professional narrator. Not only does he convey empathy, according to Democrats inside and outside Biden’s campaign, but using Biden’s voice “helps people think about him as president,” said Patrick Bonsignore, Biden’s director of paid media.

But the ad makers’ overarching takeaway from their research was this: While Trump may not be vulnerable on issues of character alone, as he demonstrated in 2016, he is vulnerable when character is tied to his policy record on the economy and health care.

 “What we’ve learned form a lot of previous experience … is that quite honestly, people who work in politics can be bad prognosticators in terms of which ad will work,” said Patrick McHugh, Priorities’ executive director. “You see a lot of times the videos that go viral on Twitter … you test those ads, and more often than not they backlash … they can move voters toward Trump.”

For the negative ad industry, the coronavirus has been a bonanza because it inextricably linked both the economy and health care. On the evening of his Tulsa rally, American Bridge, which had already been working on an ad pummeling Trump for his response to the coronavirus, bookended its material with Trump’s acknowledgment that he urged officials to “slow the testing down.”

Biden’s campaign rushed a video onto social media skewering Trump for the admission. And Priorities USA, the Biden campaign’s preferred big-money vehicle, was on TV within days with Trump’s testing remarks in the swing states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan.

And the ads hit their target.

 “On the campaign they’ll say such horrible things about me. It’s a very unfair business,” Trump said on Fox News. “But the ad [Democrats] did this morning, it’s a great ad for them.”

Research contact: @politico

Judge strikes down Trump Administration rule denying asylum to most migrants at southern border

July 2, 2020

A federal judge has nullified a Trump Administration rule that, since July 2019, has banned most migrants from receiving asylum at America’s southern border with Mexico, The Hill reports.

The rule in question made all applicants at the southern border ineligible for asylum unless they had previously applied from another country or had been the victims of sex trafficking.

Late on Tuesday night, June 30, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly of the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump Administration had failed to follow the procedural law governing how regulations can be implemented—which requires advance notice and a period for the public to comment on the proposal.

“These procedures are not a mere formality,” Kelly, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in his opinion.

The ruling—one of several that have disappointed the POTUS in recent weeks—will likely have little immediate impact amid the president’s strict border restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic.

Hardy Vieux, an attorney at Human Rights First, one of the plaintiffs in the case, hailed the decision.

“Judge Kelly’s ruling is proof that the administration cannot do an end-run around the law,” Vieux said in a statement. “In the United States of America, we follow the rule of law, even when it benefits asylum-seekers demonized by this administration. We do not follow the rule of one capricious man, who treats the law as something on which to trample, on his way to a photo op.”

The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, another plaintiff, added that the decision would remove a barrier for those seeking safety from persecution.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles,” said Claudia Cubas, the group’s litigation director. “The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims.”

Still, the decision could be appealed. A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Research contact: @thehill

Biden to amp up criticism of Trump on coronavirus as cases mount nationwide

July 1, 2020

As states report surging numbers of coronavirus cases—with Texas, Florida, and California documenting more than 5,000 new cases per day—Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden on Tuesday, June 30, said he planned to escalate his criticism of President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic and detail how he would stem the virus, The Washington Post reported.

More than 2.5 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the CDC, and over 126,000 nationwide have died from the virus. Even worse, there is no end in sight.

Biden said he will tie together a raft of proposals he’s offered since January— including providing free testing and treatment for the disease and guaranteed paid leave for those who must stay home from work while sick—according to a campaign document outlining his themes that was obtained by The Washington Post.

The document, in the form of a scorecard that the campaign will push via social media, is intended to hammer home the areas where Biden’s campaign believes that Trump has fallen short. Broad categories include the president’s failure to “level with the American people”; his inability to provide testing and treatment; shortfalls in securing a supply chain for protective equipment; and failures to protect workers, older Americans and small businesses.

Although, the Post says, the presumptive Democratic nominee is not expected to unveil new ideas, his speech will pull together various proposals under a single framework, intending to demonstrate a meaty response to the question of how he would respond to this crisis.

In contrast, the news outlet notes, “Trump has recently tried to push the nation’s focus away from the virus and instead talk about stimulating the economic recovery. He has refused to wear a mask in public and has held two large rallies — both circumstances that run counter to the advice of health officials, including those in his administration.

The president also has offered unproven and at times dangerous ideas on how to address the coronavirus, including promoting a drug now believed to be ineffective and suggesting that the virus could be treated via “an injection inside” the body with a disinfectant.”

Trump also said at a his May 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma,  that he had instructed officials to “slow the testing down” as a way to keep the country’s official data on infections lower.

What’s more, in March the president said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for lagging coronavirus testing in the United States.

Biden last week hit Trump for his administration’s decision to ask the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, saying the action risked the lives of Americans who rely on the insurance.

Biden will make the point that “Trump has called himself a wartime president but is surrendering to the virus,” according to a campaign official who provided a brief preview of the candidate’s remarks on the condition of anonymity. The official said Biden will stress that lives would have been saved if Trump had acted sooner.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Mutiny on the bounties: Trump balks at briefing House members on Russian perfidy

June 30, 2020

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for the Trump Administration to brief all House members immediately about allegations that surfaced on June 27–detailing that Russians have been paying Afghan militants to assassinate U.S. soldiers, Politico reports.

Most recently, President Donald Trump has claimed that he knows nothing about the disclosures—and that he and Vice President Mike Pence never have been briefed on the matter by U.S. intelligence agencies. He has not said that he intends to follow up on the accusations against Russia and, by extension, against President Vladimir Putin—which he does not believe to be credible.

However, The New York Times has countered that story, saying that senior White House and intelligence officials knew about the bounty allegations since at least March but took no action.

Indeed, the Times has reported that Trump was briefed on the matter and that it was included in his Presidential Daily Brief, but Trump denied ever learning of the intelligence and late Sunday said his leaders in the intelligence community told him it wasn’t credible.

“The questions that arise are: Was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed? Congress and the country need answers now,” Pelosi wrote in her letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel. “I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately. Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”

Since the news reports emerged, Politico reports, Democrats and some Republicans have been demanding details from the Administration. Early Monday, congressional aides indicated no briefing had been set up for the House intelligence, armed services or foreign affairs committee. It’s unclear if the Gang of Eight—the leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the intelligence committee—will be briefed, but as of Monday morning there was no meeting scheduled, per a congressional source.

The new allegations —which The New York Times and The Washington Post reported may have led to the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan—have once again brought Trump’s relationship with Russia under scrutiny.

Senior House Democrats were furious with the reports, which first surfaced Saturday. Pelosi told ABC ‘s ‘This Week” on Sunday: “This is as bad as it gets.”

“If reports are true that Russia offered a bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Trump wasn’t briefed, that’s a problem,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California) tweeted Sunday. “What will it take to get Trump to abandon the fiction that Putin is our friend?”

“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump said. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Democrats, however, hammered the president over the bounties.

“It’s sickening that American soldiers have been killed as a result of Russian bounties on their heads, and the Commander in Chief didn’t do a thing to stop it,” Representatuve Max Rose (D-N.Y.), a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, told Politico.

Research contact: @politico

As COVID-19 rages, Trump asks Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare

June 29,2020

The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases per day in the United States hit an all-time high of 40,000 on Friday, June 26—eclipsing the mark set during one of the deadliest stretches in late April, CBS News reports; noting that there is “ample evidence” that the pandemic is making a comeback.

Yet, even so, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court late on June 25 to terminate the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare—the only health insurance to which many Americans have access. If the justices agree, they will wipe out coverage for as many as 23 million Americans, The New York Times reports.

In an 82-page brief submitted an hour before a midnight deadline, the Administration joined Republican officials in 18 states in arguing that, in 2017, the largely Republican Congress had rendered the law unconstitutional when it zeroed out the tax penalty for not buying insurance—the so-called individual mandate.

In his brief, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco maintained that the health law’s two remaining central provisions are now invalid because Congress intended that all three work together, the Times said.

The court has not said when it will hear oral arguments, but they are most likely to take place in the fall, just as Americans are preparing to go to the polls in November.

Republicans have long said their goal is to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act but have yet to agree on an alternative. They are bracing for the possibility that the effort to overturn the health law will cost them, according to the Times report.

Joel White, a Republican strategist, said in a recent interview with the news outlet that he considered it “pretty dumb to be talking about how we need to repeal Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic.”

Democrats, who view health care a winning issue—and who reclaimed the House majority in 2018 on their promise to expand access and bring down costs—are trying to use the Supreme Court case to press their advantage. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote for Monday, June 29, on a measure to expand the healthcare law, in an effort to draw a sharp contrast between Democrats and Republicans.

“President Trump and the Republicans’ campaign to rip away the protections and benefits of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the coronavirus crisis is an act of unfathomable cruelty,” Pelosi said in a statement late Thursday night, after the administration’s brief was filed.

“If President Trump gets his way,” she added, “130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose the A.C.A.’s lifesaving protections and 23 million Americans will lose their health coverage entirely.”

Research contact: @nytimes