Saturday, October 26, 2019

Last Call For It's All About Revenge Now, Con't

Donald Trump ordered Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to sink a $10 billion Pentagon IT contract for Amazon over the fact CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, according to a new Mattis biography out on Tuesday.

A new biography of former Defense Secretary James Mattis reports President Donald Trump personally got involved in who would win a major $10 billion contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon, according to the website Task & Purpose, which writes about military issues. 
That hotly contested contract was awarded to Microsoft on Friday evening over Amazon in a months-long battle. 
Task & Purpose reports the new book, "Holding The Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis" by former Mattis speechwriter and communications director Guy Snodgrass recounts that Mattis always tried to translate Trump's demands into ethical outcomes. 
According to Snodgrass' book, Trump called Mattis during summer 2018 and directed him to "screw Amazon" out of the opportunity to bid on the contract. 
Task & Purpose obtained an advanced copy of the book. CNN has not yet seen the book. 
For several years Trump has voiced his displeasure with Amazon and Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. He has accused Amazon of taking advantage of the Postal Service although independent investigations have disagreed with that contention. He also has linked his unfavorable view of Washington Post reporting to Amazon although the Post makes clear it is run separately
"Relaying the story to us during Small Group, Mattis said, 'We're not going to do that. This will be done by the book, both legally and ethically,'" Snodgrass wrote according to Task & Purpose. 
The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

As the story says the contract was put on hold a few months ago by new Defense Secretary Peter Esper after Mattis resigned at the end of last year, and lo and behold, this week Microsoft won that contract.

I'm not sad to see the obnoxious Bezos take a $10 billion hit considering how awful his corporate empire is.  Maybe his shareholders will sue him over this mess and he'll lose his shirt.  But let's not forget that everything Trump does is driven by revenge, and that he's a criminal mobster at heart.  Mattis wouldn't do what Trump wanted, so he was forced out and Trump found someone who was more than willing to hurt Bezos over his news stories.

Things haven't changed much since the Gilded Age, have they.

Greed Is Always In Fashion

Having a Treasury Secretary like Stephen Mnuchin, former Hollywood producer and Wall Street ace, basically guaranteed that Trump's tax scam was going to make everyone already rich even richer, even if they are convicted Reagan-era scumbags like Michael Milken.

These days, the Milken Institute is a leading proponent of a new federal tax break that was intended to coax wealthy investors to plow money into distressed communities known as “opportunity zones.” The institute’s leaders have helped push senior officials in the Trump administration to make the tax incentive more generous, even though it is under fire for being slanted toward the wealthy.

Mr. Milken, it turns out, is in a position to personally gain from some of the changes that his institute has urged the Trump administration to enact. In one case, the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, directly intervened in a way that benefited Mr. Milken, his longtime friend.

It is a vivid illustration of the power that Mr. Milken, who was barred from the securities industry and fined $600 million as part of his 1990 felony conviction, has amassed in President Trump’s Washington. In addition to the favorable tax-policy changes, some of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers — including Mr. Mnuchin, Jared Kushner and Rudolph W. Giuliani — have lobbied the president to pardon Mr. Milken for his crimes, or supported that effort, according to people familiar with the effort.

While the Milken Institute’s advocacy of opportunity zones is public, Mr. Milken’s financial stake in the outcome is not.

The former “junk bond king” has investments in at least two major real estate projects inside federally designated opportunity zones in Nevada, near Mr. Milken’s Lake Tahoe vacation home, according to public records reviewed by The New York Times.
One of those developments, inside an industrial park, is a nearly 700-acre site in which Mr. Milken is a major investor. Last year, after pressure from Mr. Milken’s business partner and other landowners, the Treasury Department ignored its own guidelines on how to select opportunity zones and made the area eligible for the tax break, according to people involved in the discussions and records reviewed by The Times.

The unusual decision was made at the personal instruction of Mr. Mnuchin, according to internal Treasury Department emails. It came shortly after he had spent time with Mr. Milken at an event his institute hosted.

“People were troubled,” said Annie Donovan, who previously ran the Treasury office in charge of designating areas as opportunity zones. She and two of her former colleagues said they were upset that the Treasury secretary was intervening to bend rules, though they said they didn’t realize at the time that Mr. Mnuchin’s friend stood to profit. The agency’s employees, Ms. Donovan said, “were put in a position where they had to compromise the integrity of the process.”

The opportunity zone initiative, tucked into the tax cut bill that Mr. Trump signed into law in 2017, has become one of the White House’s signature initiatives. It allows investors to delay or avoid taxes on capital gains by putting money in projects or companies in more than 8,700 federally designated opportunity zones. Mr. Trump has boasted that it will revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods.

But the incentive, also championed by some prominent Democrats, has been dogged by criticism that it is a gift to wealthy investors and real estate developers. From the start, the tax break targeted people with capital gains, the vast majority of which are held by the very richest investors. The Treasury permitted opportunity zones to encompass not only poor communities but some adjacent affluent neighborhoods. Much of the money so far has flowed to those wealthier areas, including many projects that were planned long before the new law was enacted.

The Trump era, where the greed of the Reagan 80's and the grifts of the Clinton 90's meet to form the new hotness in kleptocracy.  But what did everyone expect from the Trump tax scam?  It's already tanking the economy and we're positing trillion-dollar deficits that suddenly don't matter.

Trump's looting the economy on the way out, and the next crash will have to be dealt with by whatever Democrat's in charge in 2021.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

House Judiciary Dems are trying to score testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, and if they're smart, they'll call the Trump regime's bluff on wanting a "completely transparent process" and put McGahn on TV.

Negotiations to make former White House counsel Don McGahn available for a House interview have been active throughout October, the Justice Department indicated Friday, revealing that it has had discussions with the Judiciary Committee five times since Oct. 8.

Those talks — on Oct. 8, 11, 15, 21 and 24 — came despite an Oct. 8 letter from McGahn's successor, Pat Cipollone, declaring that the White House would refuse to cooperate with Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry.

"Although the Speaker of the House has announced publicly that, in her view, the House has now commenced an impeachment inquiry ... the Administration remains open to continued discussion of a possible Committee interview, under appropriate terms and conditions, of Mr. McGahn," Justice Department attorneys wrote in a brief filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., in response to Democrats' efforts to enforce a subpoena requiring McGahn's testimony.

House attorneys have argued that they're at an impasse with the Justice Department over obtaining McGahn's testimony, which they have been seeking since special counsel Robert Mueller revealed in April that he was a central witness to potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. McGahn refused to comply with a subpoena for his testimony in May and the Judiciary Committee filed suit in July, declaring that his testimony is crucial to determine whether the House should file articles of impeachment against Trump. Since then, sporadic talks with the Justice Department have reached no conclusion.

DOJ argues that the House's impeachment inquiry is "different" than the Judiciary Committee's pursuit of McGahn, even though Pelosi has blessed the panel's pursuit of potential articles of impeachment based on Mueller's findings.

The Justice Department's suggestion that talks were ongoing in October is misleading, a source briefed on the discussions told POLITICO.

"We have an obligation to try to reach an accommodation, even now," the source said, "but the White House has only ever discussed terms they know are unacceptable to us

Of course, the White House position that the impeachment inquiry "doesn't count" got a whole lot more untenable on Friday.

A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Justice Department must turn over former special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury evidence to the House Judiciary Committee, a groundbreaking victory for Democrats in their effort to investigate whether President Donald Trump should be impeached for obstructing the long-running Russia probe.

In a double victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Judge Beryl Howell — the chief federal judge in Washington — ruled that the impeachment inquiry Democrats have launched is valid even though the House hasn't taken a formal vote on it. The decision rejects arguments by DOJ and congressional Republicans that a formal vote is necessary to launch impeachment proceedings.

"Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry," Howell determined, dismissing GOP arguments as unsupported.

Republicans had claimed that the House Judiciary Committee cannot begin impeachment proceedings without a formal vote of the House — and that even if it could, Pelosi is not empowered to simply grant that authority to the Judiciary Committee. But Howell rejected the arguments out of hand.

"These contentions are, at worst, red herrings and, at best, incorrect," ruled Howell, an appointee of former President Barack Obama.

In her ruling, Howell ordered the DOJ to provide by Oct. 30 "[a]ll portions of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election that were redacted pursuant to" grand jury restrictions.

The order also requires the Justice Department to provide "any underlying transcripts or exhibits referenced in the portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted" pursuant to those restrictions.

“The court’s thoughtful ruling recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the Constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)

Needless to say, the DoJ will have to appeal this one pretty quickly the the DC Circuit Court since the deadline is Wednesday.  I'm not sure how quickly it will move after that, and I'm still not 100% sure that the White House wants to push this to SCOTUS, but giving Mueller grand jury info to the House Judiciary means that things covered up by Barr could see the light of day, and that could be fatal for Trump.

They'll fight this all the way, as they don't have a choice.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

Some Saturday deposition action today in DC as justice works a weekend, but State Department official Phil Reeker isn't expected to drop any huge new information blockbusters, but rather to corroborate what other State Department officials have said over the last two weeks.

The top State Department official overseeing US policy in Europe and Eurasia is expected to become the latest witness in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.  
Ambassador Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees on Saturday. As has been the case for all the other State Department officials who have testified in the probe, Reeker will likely be subpoenaed to appear. 
He is well-regarded among those who know him, with multiple officials pointing to his smarts. 
"He is one of the more creative and independent-minded people you will find in the State Department," a former State Department official who knows him told CNN. "He is a problem-solver." 
However, sources suggest he won't be bringing any bombshells to his testimony. 
"I have a feeling his testimony will simply be repeating what other people said," the former State Department official said, noting Reeker's status as an acting secretary. 
"He is in a tenuous position. I do not think he is in a position to go to bat for the foreign service because if he puts up a stink I am not sure he will stick around for much longer," a State Department official said. "They could reassign him at moment's notice." 
Reeker has served in the role in an acting capacity since March following the departure of A. Wess Mitchell in February. He has known former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who was an early witness in the impeachment inquiry, for decades. According to the former State Department official, the two would check in with each other, and Volker wanted to keep Reeker in the loop on what was happening with US-Ukrainian relations. That official said they did discuss President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and that Volker had told Reeker about when he met with Giuliani. Reeker seemed to indicate he did not want to get involved with the matter, according to the official. 

Fine with me, it would be nice to have a day or two without a brand-new impeachable offense by Trump, but the weekend is young, and Reeker could have a shocker or two.  Who knows?
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