Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Trump Organization’s two affiliate companies on trial in New York City were found guilty of all nine counts of tax fraud and related crimes on Monday, as jurors ended a long trial with a swift verdict against the former American president’s corporate empire.

The Manhattan jury concluded that former President Donald Trump’s eponymous companies dodged taxes by playing accounting games: showering their executives with benefits, reducing their official salary, and paying them at times as if they were “independent contractors.”

As the court clerk read the list of nine criminal counts—tax fraud, falsifying business records, engaging in a conspiracy—the jury foreperson kept repeating the same word, "Guilty." At times, she even got ahead of herself, saying the word before the clerk finished describing the charge. Afterward, each juror nodded and asserted out loud that they agreed.

The company now faces what prosecutors expect to be more than $1 million in fines—a paltry sum for a multi-billion dollar global marketing operation but a mark of shame nonetheless, just as Trump launches a re-election campaign. This is also the first successful legal action against the Trumps in years.

The tax accounting hacks were all a ruse—one that even the company acknowledged but placed all the blame on a rogue employee.

Defense lawyer Michael van der Veen tried to win over jurors with a mantra straight out of the O.J. Simpson trial: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The Trump Organization motto was, “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.

But the jurors weren’t convinced. After all, those swindling staffers were Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and company controller Jeffrey McConney, as well as half a dozen other executives who were never charged.

Weisselberg eventually confessed to reducing his on-the-books salary—allowing him to avoid city, state, and federal taxes—and instead got an ton of perks: a fake $6,000 no-show job for his wife, corporate Mercedes sedans for them both, a luxury Manhattan apartment, and more than $360,000 in private school tuition for their grandkids paid by Donald Trump himself.

Weisselberg and several other executives, including Chief Operating Officer Matthew Calamari Sr., also diverted some of their salary to make it seem as if they were outside contractors, claiming a status that allowed them to pay even fewer taxes.

The ploy let the company to reduce the overall size of its payroll, allowing it to pay less in payroll taxes, Medicare, and related expenses.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office spent roughly six weeks at trial against the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation—sister companies within the real estate mogul’s corporate umbrella. The time was stretched out by holidays, the incessant police sirens that echoed in the streets below, and a COVID outbreak that sickened a witness and even the judge.

Prosecutors made the case that top decision makers were all in on the plot to routinely reduce executives’ official salaries in various ways to avoid paying taxes. For prosecutors, the primary challenge came from proving that these executives did it to enrich themselves—and helped the business in the process.

Joshua Steinglass, an assistant district attorney, put it simply to jurors in his closing arguments last week Friday. He described how an employee seeking to buy a $25,000 car would have to ask for a raise worth double that to account for taxes. But the employee and company both make out like bandits—avoiding a heap of taxes—if the company just gives the employee a $25,000 car and reduces their pay by the same amount.

“By far the most significant benefit… is that it allowed these companies to pay these executives less than they otherwise would have,” Steinglass told jurors.

And while Manhattan DA Allen Bragg got his victory today, remember that Bragg is still looking into Trump's hush money check to Stormy Daniels.

Again, politically, this should be the end of Donald Trump, his corporation nailed with massive tax fraud convictions.

We all know however that it won't be.

Republicans In Disarray, Con't

House Republicans are plotting tactics for their new majority and weighing how to use their leverage to enact a laundry list of demands, with many zeroing in on an issue with enormous economic implications: Raising the nation’s borrowing limit.

It’s an issue confronting House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is rounding up the votes to win the House speaker race and facing pressure from some of his colleagues to more forcefully detail how he plans to handle the sensitive topic before they decide whether to support him on January 3 for the most powerful position in Congress.

In interviews with CNN, more than two dozen House GOP lawmakers laid out their demands to avoid the nation’s first-ever debt default, ranging from new immigration policies to imposing deep domestic spending cuts. And several Republicans flatly said they would oppose raising the borrowing limit even if all their demands were met, making McCarthy’s narrow path even narrower.

“I’m a no, no matter what,” Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, said of raising the debt ceiling.

Despite Congress suspending the nation’s borrowing limit three times when Donald Trump was president, even under all-GOP control of Washington, lawmakers say it is highly uncertain how the matter will be dealt with in a divided Congress next year – reminiscent of the furious battles between House Republicans and Barack Obama’s White House that put the country on the brink of economic disaster.

For McCarthy, the debt ceiling debate will represent one of his most difficult balancing acts if he’s elected speaker: He would need to work with Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden to cut a deal and avoid economic catastrophe without angering his emboldened right flank for caving into the left. And unlike other bills in the GOP House that will die in the Democratic-led Senate, a debt ceiling increase is one of the few must-pass items awaiting the new Congress – something many Republicans see as critical leverage.

Some Republicans say it is incumbent upon McCarthy to spell out his strategy on the issue before they decide if they will support him in the speakership race – when the California Republican can only afford to lose four GOP votes. In one private meeting with a member of the House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy was urged to take a harder public stance on the coming policy issues for next year, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Several (House Freedom Caucus) members have made spending a main issue,” one GOP lawmaker who has been critical of McCarthy told CNN.

Rep. Scott Perry, the leader of the hardline Freedom Caucus, confirmed it’s an issue that has been broached with McCarthy as he has been wooing members ahead of next month’s vote.

“Debt ceiling has been a conversation that has been perennial in every single conversation or meeting around here since I’ve been here,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in an interview.

But some moderate Republicans – whom McCarthy needs to protect in order to keep their fragile majority in 2024 – have expressed uneasiness over using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, risking both a catastrophic default and the political blame, especially if Republicans push for cuts to popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Republicans remember 2011 all too well when a proposal from then-Rep. Paul Ryan to overhaul Medicare became fodder for attacks that depicted him rolling an elderly lady in a wheelchair off a cliff.

“We shouldn’t put the United States in a position to default on our debt, clearly,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican. “But I also think every member of Congress needs to acknowledge that the $32 trillion debt is not in our national interest
To recap, House Republicans want to destroy America's credit and immediately push us into a deep recession with a debt default, or force massive spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  Several of them want to replace the "or" with "and". 

And that's if McCarthy becomes Speaker, which again...seems incredibly unlikely.

Border Line...Sanity?

WaPo's Greg Sargent opines on the lame-duck immigration deal struck between NC Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Synema that would actually consist of helping to fix the border and immigration in general, and frankly, neither side seems happy with the bill at all.

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have reached an agreement on a draft framework of immigration reform compromises, sources familiar with the situation tell me. They involve issues such as the fate of “dreamers” brought here as children and the processing of asylum seekers at the southern border. Will the 10 Republican senators necessary to overcome a filibuster go along?
Short answer, no. Long answer:
A white paper laying out this Tillis-Sinema blueprint is circulating on Capitol Hill, congressional aides and advocates plugged into the talks tell me. Though the details are in flux, here’s a partial list of the major items it contains:
  • Some form of path to citizenship for 2 million dreamers.
  • A large boost in resources to speed up the processing of asylum seekers, including new processing centers and more asylum officers and judges.
  • More resources to expedite the removal of migrants who don’t qualify for asylum.
  • A continuation of the Title 42 covid-health-rule restriction on migrants applying for asylum, until the new processing centers are operational, with the aim of a one-year cutoff.
  • More funding for border officers.
The idea behind this compromise is this: It gives Democrats protection for 2 million dreamers and strengthened defenses of the due process rights of some migrants. It gives Republicans faster removal from the country of migrants who fail to qualify for asylum, a continued restriction on applications for the next year and more border security.

The boost in resources would hopefully reduce the strain at the border by moving migrants through the asylum application process more quickly. The processing facilities would be temporary detention centers, but additional lawyers would be present, enabling more robust representation.

On the flip side, if migrants fail the initial interview determining whether they have a “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their home countries, they’d be removed much more quickly. A “Title 42” health rationale, which is indefensible as a border-management tool, would be kept ostensibly to control flows while the reforms are implemented. The Government Accountability Office would have the authority to end it after one year if the processing centers are up and running.

It’s hard to say whether 10 Republican senators would back such a deal to get it past a GOP filibuster. This will become harder when former president Donald Trump and adviser Stephen Miller scream that it represents a massive betrayal by “elites,” as they undoubtedly will, and right-wing media propagandists such as Tucker Carlson amplify that toxic message to enrage the base.

If 10 GOP senators could support this, they’d be drawn from those who are retiring (Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania) or those willing to challenge the Trump wing of the party (Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).

A big question is whether these Republicans will see any advantage in genuinely trying to fix the problems at the border. They might decide that the GOP won’t get any credit even if the effort succeeds — that credit might go to President Biden — and that it’s better to retain the permanent “border crisis” as an issue.

But this is the last chance for these GOP senators to try to reach a bipartisan compromise. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to be the next speaker, has vowed not to pass any immigration reform legislation until he deems the border secured, which will never, ever happen. By backing this, retiring GOP senators could plausibly argue that they helped move the party on from Trump and add bipartisan reform on a brutal national problem to their legacy.

On the other side, however, it’s not clear whether 50 Democratic senators would support such a compromise. The continuation of Title 42, which has been a human rights disaster, and the beefed up removal process might make it a nonstarter among progressives in both chambers.


So yeah, like every other "bipartisan" immigration reform in the FOX Noise era, it will fail. Republicans don't want immigration reform because they don't want immigration, period. They want to yell racist nonsense about MS-13 and diseases coming across the border and drug cartels and they're taking our jobs, They want caravans on TV, and eventually M1 Abrams tanks on the damn border.

And even if all Democratic senators are willing to put up with Title 42 removals -- a huge "if" -- there just aren't 10 Republicans willing to go along. I don't think the legislation will even get 50 votes.

No, this one is going to crash and burn, folks.

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