The Trump-GOP tax cuts are phony . . . they were planned that way

The Republican tax law is proving great for corporate executives and major shareholders—translation: rich people—but the evidence keeps coming in that giving corporations a giant tax cut doesn’t translate into jobs or higher wages for regular workers. A few companies have given workers a one-time bonus, but the real money is going to stock buybacks:

Buybacks are a strategy to boost stock prices – by reducing the number of shares outstanding, which artificially increases a company’s earning per share. But they do nothing to improve the economy.

How much money? It could be $1 trillion.   This is but a small sample of stock buybacks so far in 2018:

  1. Apple – $100 billion
  2. Cisco – $25 billion
  3. Wells Fargo – $22.6 billion
  4. Pepsi – $15 billion
  5. AbbVie – $10 billion
  6. Amgen – $10 billion
  7. Google parent Alphabet – $8.6 billion
  8. Visa – $7.5 billion
  9. eBay – $6 billion

Don’t forget, the corporate leadership that’s making these buyback decisions will also benefit from them, since many executive compensation packages are tied to stock prices as well as including stocks and stock options.

Republicans claimed the corporate tax cut would benefit workers, though it was always easy to see that for a lie if you just poked at it a little. And now we have the proof of the lie.

Latest rightwing fevered delusion: FBI plot to kneecap Trump

There has been no more barometrically reliable insight into the Trump administration’s defense strategy on Russia than Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. Her weekly missives, essentially transcribed straight from the fevered mind of Devin Nunes, bring the readers up to date on every twist and turn in the developing conspiracy theories about the nefarious Deep State plot to frame the innocent president.

Strassel’s latest missive brings into view the latest working theory. It holds that James Comey planted a spy in the Trump campaign, in order to set in motion an investigation that would be used to smear Trump as a Russian tool, and thereby to hand the election to Hillary Clinton. This is the theory Trump is referring to when he rages about a plot that is “worse than Watergate.”

Put aside for a moment whether it is actually scandalous for the FBI to use an informant to uncover evidence of criminal conduct. The argument is that the clear purpose of this maneuver was to influence the 2016 election. Strassel writes that when Comey notified the National Security Council in spring 2016 that it was conducting a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, it “officially notified senior political operators on Team Obama that the bureau had eyes on Donald Trump and Russia. Imagine what might be done in these partisan times with such explosive information.”

[…]

This sounds like a genius plan: Plant a spy to launch an investigation, and then spring the “fatal October surprise.”

Except there’s one tiny flaw in this theory: They never sprang the October surprise. The FBI kept a tight lid on the investigation — so tight, in fact, they floated a misleading story in the New York Times conveying the false impression that they saw no ties to Russia. Clinton did help finance Christopher Steele’s investigation, but also did not publish his reporting. And the Obama administration also kept a tight lid on the disturbing details that emerged. The farthest Obama went was to ask leaders of both parties to join in a bipartisan statement warning Russia not to interfere with the election — and when Mitch McConnell refused, they did nothing. When voting took place in November 2016, as far as the public was concerned, Clinton had been under FBI investigation and Trump had not.

Qatar bails out Jared Kushner to the tune of $1.8 billion . . . no bribery here . . . move along

Facing massive debt and an ever closer deadline, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner appears to finally have found someone willing to invest in his 666 Fifth Avenue property. Kushner‘s family-owned company is facing an enormous mortgage over the 41-story office tower, and a soon-to-come-due $1.2 billion note threatened the future of the company. But now, after investors from around the world turned Kushner down, he has amazingly found a savior.

The New York Times reports that Canada-based investment company Brookfield Properties is on its way to being the proud controlling partner for a building that no one else seems to want. Which would seem like good timing for Kushner, though not otherwise particularly interesting, but for one thing: Bookfield’s money comes from the Qatar Investment Authority.

This isn’t the first time Qatar has appeared in this story. Jared’s father Charles Kushner—freshly returned from prison after pleading guilty to 18 counts of making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering—claimed that he met with Qatar as a courtesy back in April 2017. The Kushner company stated they had already determined that it would not be “appropriate” for Kushner to take a loan backed by the Qatar government.

Instead, Kushner and Trump went almost immediately off to Saudi Arabia, where Kushner was joined by Donald Trump in supporting a near-coup that overturned the kingdom’s line of succession. The pair then gave the Saudis their long desired go-ahead to blockade their smaller neighbor—an action that Trump has since supported in numerous tweets and statements.

But since then, Kushner got a $184M loan backed by Qatar, and now Kushner is suddenly on the brink of getting a major investment from the tiny US ally, with a minor layer of paint over its origins. If that sounds to you like Kushner was turned down by Qatar, looked on Saudi ambitions as a way to punish the people who turned him down, then waited with one hand on his empty wallet for Qatar to ask for forgiveness, you’re not crazy. It looks that way to everyone.

The deal with Brookfield is likely to raise further concerns about Jared Kushner’s dual role as a White House point person on the Middle East and a continuing stake holder in the family’s company. Mr. Kushner earlier this year lost his top-secret security clearance amid concerns that foreign governments could attempt to gain influence with the White House by doing business with the Kushner Companies.

And this would seem to be a confirmation of that concern, for extremely high stakes.

 

It’s NOT what Trump got from the June 2016 meeting — it’s what the Russian got (everything they wanted)

One takeaway of many preliminary reports about some 2,500 pages of sworn testimony released on the key 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and Kremlin-linked operatives is that the original promise of game-changing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton never quite materialized. In other words, Don Jr. didn’t exactly get what he was promised or he was looking for.

But people who simply ask, “What did the Trump campaign actually get from the meeting?” are missing a much bigger point about the meeting. An equally important if not more telling question is, “What did the Russians get from the meeting?”

Considering that the Russian lawyer and key participant, Natalia Veselnitskaya, admitted last month to being an “informant” for the Russian government, one has to wonder what she informed Russian officials about following the meeting.

What’s the first thing she told them? We promised Team Trump information that “would incriminate Hillary” and “be very useful” to Donald Trump’s candidacy, and three of the campaign’s top officials showed up at the meeting: Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr.; Trump’s son-in-law and director of digital outreach, Jared Kushner; and Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Veselnitskaya’s takeaway: they were eager and open for business with us.

In fact, based on the Senate Judiciary transcripts, Don Jr. began the June 9, 2016, meeting with: “So you have some information for us?” Don Jr. also expressed disappointment to the Judiciary panel about what little dirt actually materialized in the meeting: “All else being equal, I wouldn’t have wanted to waste 20 minutes …”

In other words, if they had gotten something good, he would have been psyched about it. But it was supposedly a bust.

The Russians also got an opening from Don Jr. on potentially easing sanctions imposed on Russia by the Magnitsky Act, a penalty for human rights violations in the country that greatly embarrassed Vladimir Putin. Veselnitskaya had a track record of lobbying for removal of the sanctions, and Don Jr. closed the meeting by hinting at a quid pro quo.

Donald Trump Jr. shut down the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower by telling his Russian guests perhaps they’d revisit the discussion about lifting sanctions legislation should his father win the election.

Finally, Team Trump appears to have been open to the idea of getting help from a Russian social media network, VK, with voter turnout among Russian-speaking Americans. That idea had been previously reported based on follow-up emails sent by the meeting’s organizer, Rob Goldstone, to the Trump campaign’s social media director, Dan Scavino.

“I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” Goldstone wrote to Scavino on June 29. […] “At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it, and so I had the VK folks mock up a basic sample page, which I am resending for your approval now,” Goldstone wrote.

While it’s unclear what became of this effort, it’s just one more example of Team Trump’s openness to Russian help in the election.

Bottom line: Team Trump may not have been impressed with the dirt it sought to obtain, but the Russians clearly got the message the Trump camp was plenty eager for the Kremlin’s help.

As the Judiciary panel’s ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein outlined in her statement summarizing the documents:

  • The Trump campaign accepted this offer of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton],” which was also described as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
  • Top campaign officials Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. did not reject the offer of election assistance from a hostile foreign government. Nor did they report this offer to law enforcement authorities. Instead, they attended the meeting.
  • Afterward, Donald Trump Jr. issued misleading statements, with assistance from the White House, that concealed the meeting’s true purpose.

All of those signals left the door wide open for other approaches by the Kremlin. Not only do we know Russian intelligence operatives routinely cast a wide net to test the waters and reel in co-conspirators, we also know they affirmatively did so in 2016. Even if the public doesn’t have full access to that array of information yet, we do know, for instance, that George Papadopoulos is one other point of entry to the Trump campaign the Russians tried to exploit. But there’s apparently plenty more where that came from.

Rep. Eric Swalwell

@RepSwalwell

The Senate Judiciary, in its limited investigation, released Trump Tower meeting transcripts. We learned much, much more about other approaches in our House Intel investigation. Why are @HouseGOP blocking our transcripts?

In fact, the Senate Intelligence panel just confirmed Wednesday another avenue the Kremlin used to boost Trump’s candidacy: the National Rifle Association.

Perhaps when all the congressional inquiries conclude, the total picture will prove a lot more telling than any single committee release. But having full access to the House Intelligence panel’s transcripts would be useful. If Team Trump is as innocent as the House GOP’s Intel members say, why not release those transcripts too?

Another day, another Trump crime

Tuesday was the deadline for Donald Trump to file a required ethics form called the “Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report,” which includes a list of all personal liabilities in excess of $10,000.

That presented a problem: Trump’s previous filing had not included the $130,000 he repaid Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush money payoff.

That left him with the choice of either filing a second form that broke the law or admitting that he had broken the law the first time by omitting the debt. The form has now been released, and it shows that Trump followed the advice of ethics experts, and admitted the previous wrongdoing.

Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a CNN commentator, explained how Trump admitted the truth of a complaint his organization filed.

In the form, Trump acknowledges that a government agency told him he had to disclose the money: “[Office of Government Ethics] has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability.”

But elsewhere in the form the Trump team argues against that conclusion.

“[W]hile not required to be disclosed as ‘reportable liabilities’ on Part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen. Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017.”

 As a result, Trump now is facing a felony.

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has sent a letter to the Department of Justice regarding Trump’s payout.