April 20, 2018

President Trump allegedly pressured his attorney general and FBI director to find "derogatory information within the FBI's files" about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two senior FBI officials who exchanged disparaging text messages about the president, in order to discredit and fire them, Vox writes. The meeting between Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director Christopher Wray reportedly took place at the White House on Jan. 22, and in it Trump allegedly expressed his ire that Strzok and Page still have their jobs.

Both Strzok and Page were briefly a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia. They also badmouthed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, although Trump and his allies have pointed to Strzok and Page's anti-Trump texts as proof that FBI agents are biased against the president.

Several months before his meeting with Sessions and Wray, Trump had been told by his then-defense attorney John Dowd that Page was "a likely witness against him in [Mueller's] investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice," Vox writes. "That Trump knew that Page might be a potential witness against him has not been previously reported or publicly known."

Trump has been known to demand loyalty, allegedly telling former FBI Director James Comey, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," in a conversation last year. Comey described the president's words as "very concerning, given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency." Jeva Lange

April 16, 2018

On CNN Monday night, Anderson Cooper wondered aloud why Fox News' Sean Hannity never disclosed to viewers that he was a client of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, despite having countless opportunities to do so.

It was revealed in court on Monday that Hannity was Cohen's mysterious third client, a fact Cohen's lawyer fought to keep private. Hannity is one of Trump's fiercest supporters, often using his TV and radio shows to boost the president and denigrate those he sees as his enemies (right now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey). "It would seem the president and Sean Hannity share more than dinners and frequent phone calls and a mutual love of Fox News programming," Cooper said. "They also share an attorney. This did not come out willingly in court."

Once his name was out there, Hannity quickly tweeted that Cohen "has never represented me in any matter." Hannity said he'd asked Cohen legal questions, "almost exclusively about real estate," but he "assumed those conversations were confidential." "So what he seems to be saying is, 'I was not really a client of attorney Michael Cohen's, but our conversations are confidential because he is an attorney and I am his client," Cooper recapped.

Regardless of the exact nature of their relationship, "let's not forget one week ago today, there was a raid on Michael Cohen's office and Hannity reported on it on Fox News as if he had absolutely no connection to the story," Cooper said. "No disclosure, no disclaimer, not even a casual mention that, 'Oh yeah, this guy also represents me in some form or fashion.'" Then came the dig at Fox News' famous slogan. "Not disclosing a business or legal relationship with someone you report on and had on as your guest at least 16 times since Donald Trump declared his presidency, that doesn't sound either fair nor balanced," Cooper said. Catherine Garcia

April 12, 2018
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been heavily criticized for enjoying luxury amenities on taxpayer dollars, went as far as to request to fly on an airline that wasn't on the government's approved list so he could rack up more frequent flier miles, Democrats claim in a new letter published Thursday.

The letter was written based on conversations with the former EPA deputy chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. Chmielewski was fired after he denied one of Pruitt's staffers a first-class trip to Morocco, citing federal guidelines, The New York Times reports.

Chmielewski additionally claims Pruitt would instruct his staff to "find me something to do" at locations he wanted to visit in order to "justify the use of taxpayer funds." In another instance, Chmielewski alleged that Pruitt refused to stay at hotels in Australia and Italy recommended by the U.S. Embassy and "chose to stay instead at more expensive hotels with fewer standard security resources" and bring his security team with him, also "at taxpayer expense."

The Democrats added that Chmielewski "informed us that emails, documents, and other records exist that will verify these events."

Separately, Pruitt is facing criticism over his taxpayer-funded first-class air travel and 24/7 security, sneaky raises for two favorite aides, and a sweetheart rental deal with the wife of a top energy and transportation lobbyist. (The Democrats note in their letter that Pruitt's daughter "damaged [their] hardwood floors by repeatedly rolling her luggage across the unit when she was staying" at the condo in question.) Read Matthew Walther on the "cartoon villainy" of Scott Pruitt here at The Week. Jeva Lange

April 9, 2018
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The Trump Organization apparently appealed directly to the Panamanian president during a recent dispute over control of its 70-story property in Panama City, The Associated Press reports, an event that further blurs the line between Donald Trump's role as president of the United States and his status as owner of his eponymous company. The request from the Trump Organization specifically asked Panama's president to "ignore that country's separation of powers and intervene in its judicial process," AP writes.

The request stems from a dispute over control of Panama City's Trump International Hotel, which is owned by Miami-based Cypriot businessman Orestes Fintiklis. Fintiklis argued that the Trump Organization had poorly managed the hotel and that the undesirability of the brand had hurt revenue, while the Trump Organization maintained that its contract was still valid. Judicial officials in Panama sided with Fintiklis and later an arbitrator in the U.S. ruled that while the Trump Organization should not have been evicted during arbitration, the company would not have its management reinstated. The hotel has since been renamed, and the "TRUMP" name pried off with a crowbar.

In a letter to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, the Trump Organization "URGENTLY" requested judicial help and cited a treaty between the U.S. and Panama, the Bilateral Investment Treaty. In doing so, AP writes that the letter implies the Panamanian government, "not the new management team, could be blamed for wrongdoing."

Panama's foreign secretary, Isabel de Saint Malo, explained: "It is a letter that urges Panama's executive branch to interfere in an issue clearly of the judicial branch. I don't believe the executive branch has a position to take while the issue is in the judicial process." Read the full report at The Associated Press. Jeva Lange

March 26, 2018

As part of a program called Project Ripon, the data firm Cambridge Analytica sent dozens of non-U.S. citizens to work on campaign strategy and messaging for Republican candidates in 2014, three former employees told The Washington Post.

Cambridge Analytica is based in London, and a New York attorney prepared a memo that year warning company executives — including President Rebekah Mercer, Vice President Stephen Bannon, and chief executive Alexander Nix — that U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals from "directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process" of a campaign. The former employees said that Project Ripon involved advising campaigns on how to use data to find "hidden Republicans" and target them with individualized messages, and that staffers would often discuss whether the documents they filed with U.S. immigration in order to work on the campaigns were truthful. "We knew that everything was not above board, but we weren't too concerned about it," one former employee told the Post. "It was the Wild West. That's certainly how they carried on in 2014."

Documents obtained by the Post show that the Cambridge Analytica employees did everything from fundraising to planning events to helping with debate prep, and Project Ripon's "dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved in it, that it was a de facto foreign agent, working on an American election," former employee Christopher Wylie told the Post. Wylie is a London-based Canadian whistleblower who revealed last week that Cambridge Analytica acquired the data of tens of millions of Facebook users from a researcher who collected it under false pretenses. Catherine Garcia

March 8, 2018

President Trump used a well-known anti-Semitic dog whistle on Thursday while wishing his best to outgoing National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. "This is Gary Cohn's last Cabinet meeting," Trump said. "He may be a globalist, but I still like him. He is seriously a globalist, no question."

Earlier this week, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney faced criticism after he also called Cohn a "globalist" in a statement. Cohn is Jewish and "for the far right, globalism has long had distinct xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic overtones," writes Liam Stack in his "glossary of extremist language" in The New York Times.

Trump added that "in his own way, [Cohn is] also a nationalist because he loves our country." Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange

March 8, 2018
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President Trump's real estate sales have gotten much more secretive since he won the Republican nomination in 2016, with the majority of buyers now using limited liability companies to hide to-be owners' names, a USA Today investigation has found. In the two years before Trump was nominated, just 4 percent of buyers used shell companies to make purchases; in the year that followed, and throughout Trump's first year in office, that rate jumped all the way to 70 percent.

Attorney Bobby Burchfield, who was appointed to review the ethics of new Trump real estate deals, told USA Today that "if someone wants to do business with the Trump entities in the form of an LLC, we look behind the LLC to see who the owner of it is and where the funding is coming from. If we can't determine that, we won't sign off on it." Ross Delston, an attorney who specializes in anti-money laundering, argued in return: “From what we know of the Trump Organization's past real estate deals is they never see deals they don't like."

Ramsis Ghaly, a neurosurgeon who bought a Trump condo in Chicago, said he used an LLC on the advice of a consultant. "Was I nervous my name could be associated with him? Sure, you're always concerned with the politics and media, but for me the positives of the property outweighed the negatives," he explained.

Trump companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017. Read more about the secretive sales, and who is actually purchasing the condos, at USA Today. Jeva Lange

March 8, 2018

President Trump's re-election campaign spent over half a million dollars in 2017 to rent out space on the 14th floor of Trump Tower, despite the fact that only five people appear to be on the payroll, HuffPost reports. "There's nobody there. It's like two guys," said a Republican consultant. "There is no campaign. There is no operation. It's just a joke."

In 2015 and the spring of 2016, when Trump was primarily self-funding his campaign, the rent for the Trump Tower offices was $35,458 a month. By July 2016, when Trump started accepting donations, that price almost quintupled to $169,758 a month, despite the number of staff staying relatively consistent.

Last year, Trump spent $473,371 of donors' money at Trump Tower, although HuffPost notes that "about $150,000 of that was likely for the month immediately after his election, when the campaign was occupying more space in the building." In total, the campaign spent $774,163 at Trump-branded businesses in 2017. The Republican National Committee, which took over paying monthly rental of the Trump Tower office in autumn for $37,542 a month, spent a total of $150,169 at Trump businesses by the year's end.

"This is the least surprising president in history," said GOP consultant Stuart Stevens of those numbers. "He's exactly the same person he was in the campaign. It's what you signed up for."

Editor's note: This story's headline originally misstated who is currently paying rent at Trump Tower. It has since been corrected. We regret the error. Jeva Lange

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