Apologies for the light blogging this week. I started a new job and am working crazy hours until the end of this week. I’m currently working on the second part of my Watergate series during the little time I have to myself.
In the meantime, I’m posting a piece from the foreign-policy-centric Anne Applebaum of WaPo. In case you missed it, Pence had quite the awkward time this weekend in Munich. Here he is telling the audience he brings greeting from Donald Trump.
Speaking to a security conference in Munich, Pence tells his audience he brings greetings from President Trump… and not a single person claps. #awkwardpic.twitter.com/JkFpsKqfgk
MUNICH — Even inside a hotel so secure that it has body scanners at the entrance and snipers on the roof, Vice President Pence travels with a vast security detail. Its main function, it seems, is to elbow people out of the way so that the vice president and his unsmiling wife can walk through a lobby, crowded with European officials and military brass, and speak to no one. Which is perhaps unsurprising, for Pence was heading to the main forum of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday — an annual event whose origins lie deep in the Cold War — to make statements so tone-deaf and, frankly, peculiar that their intended audience could not have been the one in the room.
Part of his problem is the new context. Two years ago, when Pence spoke at the same forum, many in Europe were still hoping to work with the Trump administration. His speech was banal and uninspiring — it was “an entirely conventional restatement of American commitment to Europe,” I wrote at the time — but Europeans were so relieved to hear it that they decided, on balance, to believe him. Now they don’t. At a side event honoring the late senator John McCain, who had been the moving spirit of the Munich conference for decades, Pence announced that “I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.” He then waited for applause. None came.
But Pence’s keynote speech was more than merely embarrassing. It was awkwardly worded and stiffly delivered. It was sycophantic: Over and over again, he repeated the words “under President Trump’s leadership,” referring to the president as “a champion of freedom” and the “leader of the free world.” It was hypocritical: Pence’s voice seemed to crack when he spoke of the suffering of Venezuelan refugees — “We hugged their children. We heard of their hardship and their plight” — as if his administration hadn’t inflicted plenty of hardship on migrant children wrenched from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Pence’s speech was also ahistoric, even nonsensical. In one hard-to-follow chain of connections, he bundled together Auschwitz and Iran, somehow implying that Europeans who still back a deal designed to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons were supporting anti-Semitism. In a room full of people working for the European Union and NATO, institutions that were explicitly created, decades ago, to prevent another Auschwitz, this would have been offensive if anybody had actually understood what Pence was trying to say.
That, plus the undertone of maudlin religiosity — “I also have that faith, in those ancient words, that where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s liberty” — made it clear that this speech was not, as I say, directed at the Europeans in the room. It was made for the benefit of Trump, or maybe Pence’s evangelical friends and supporters back home.
And that isn’t surprising, for this administration’s foreign policy has long ceased to have much to do with people who are actually in the room. Just before Pence visited Munich, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended a surreal Middle East conference in Warsaw whose main purpose, as far as anyone could tell, was to boost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign ahead of an April 9 vote. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is allegedly hard at work on an equally surreal Middle East “peace plan,” which the president’s son-in-law is devising in secret and apparently without Palestinian input.
These peculiar efforts by Kushner, Pompeo and Pence keep them inside the president’s inner circle, and perhaps they cheer up a few donors and boosters. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy appeared set on preventing the congressional delegation from encountering too many Germans in Munich, canceling members’ attendance at annual meetings and dinners that they have traditionally attended. Conference attendees didn’t know whether to feel insulted or to just laugh.
Certainly they have stopped paying lip service to an administration that has showed it prefers its authoritarian friends to its oldest allies. There is no point in nice state visits or in trying to cultivate Ivanka Trump. It’s better to speak bluntly, and on Saturday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel certainly did. She mocked the idea that German cars made in South Carolina could be a “security threat” to the United States, as the tariff-minded Trump administration has suggested. She said the removal of U.S. troops from Syria will not spread freedom, but will “strengthen Russia and Iran’s hand.”
And, like other Europeans, she refused to heed Pence’s call to reimpose sanctions on Iran. European leaders have learned that there is no point in seeking agreement with Trump, for he doesn’t respect those who do. And this, in the end, is why Pence’s pseudo-patriotic speech sounded so off: America cannot be the champion of “liberty” or the “leader of the free world” if the free world — insulted by the U.S. president, snubbed by his surrogates — refuses to follow.
Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I started a new job and have been working crazy hours. This week will be just as bad. Luckily, mi padre is going to write a few pieces to keep things moving. I’m working on part two of Watergate which I hope to have done soon.
In the meantime, I found a thread from historian and writer from the New Republic, Patrick Iber, concerning Iran-Contra and Elliott Abrams:
I don’t have time to do a proper Elliot Abrams thread but here is the issue as I see it: Abrams in the 1980s was not just an ordinary Reagan administration official, he was an especially hard-line Reagan administration official. We must remember that Reagan was facing an opposition Congress, which tried to cut off aid to forces that were using repression and murder as tools to achieve their political ends.
Abrams would say these were terrorist guerrilla forces. Alas, the peaceful, non-violent activists had mostly been killed by that point. Remember, in El Salvador they killed Oscar Romero, a mainstream social justice Catholic (not even a liberation theologian) while he said mass. When four U.S. churchwomen were murdered, Al Haig* tried to say there may have been an “exchange of gunfire.”
And all of this behavior, which brought so much suffering to El Salvador, to Guatemala, to Honduras, to Nicaragua, was seen by Abrams and his allies within the administration as the fault of international Communism. Now of course there was aid to guerrilla groups from Cuba and so on, nor were they perfect. But the truth commission reports put around 90% of the extrajudicial killings on government forces. And this was clear throughout the conflict.
And people who tried to make clear that the US-backed side of the conflict was committing serious human rights abuses and hold them accountable were seen by Abrams as doing the work of Communism. He saw advocates of dialogue as enemies. Here are a couple of paragraphs from William LeoGrande’s “Our Own Backyard,” the definitive book on U.S. politics in Central America in the 1980s. Abrams made targets of human rights advocates, not just guerrillas.
And, for example, he tried to use blackmail to make sure Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias (recently disgraced by allegations of sexual assault but a Nobel laureate for his role facilitating negotiations that led to peace) would cooperate with the illegal US war in Nicaragua.
Not to mention the lying to Congress, which, let’s remember, happened because the Reagan administration wanted to back an illegal war after having been specifically prohibited from doing so by law. Democracy promotion indeed! Look: I know the journalist who broke the El Mozote story, Alma Guillermoprieto. We’ve been friends for years. She is still traumatized by what she saw there. The US embassy officials in El Salvador, meanwhile, didn’t venture out. They didn’t want to see. They didn’t even want to understand what they were complicit in. To them it was just Commies and their allies over there and freedom-fighters on the other side.
Democracy promotion as Abrams understood it has a particular pedigree in Cold War anti-Communism. In my work I look at CIA democracy promotion through culture in the 50s/60s. After that got exposed in 1967, it was revived in the National Endowment for Democracy under Reagan. The longtime head of the NED, just like those Cold War anti-Communists, began as a socialist. The “State Department socialists” people sometimes call them, although Abrams is not that, he began his political life as a Scoop Jackson/Moynihan hawk.
And they’re both anti-dictatorship and anti-Communist. But when they’ve got a left-wing dictatorship on their hands, that’s when they really start salivating. And, like it or not, NED support has been there in Venezuela for the opposition for years. I’m not going to defend Maduro, and for someone on the left I have been publicly critical of not only Maduro but also of autocratic aspects of Chavismo over the years. Nor am I even going say that these connections to the US make Guaidó or his demands illegitimate.
But the very legitimate worry is that by having Abrams prominently involved in Venezuela will empower hard-liners in the opposition, who have their own problems with “democracy”. I’m not trying to make an equivalence here, but you can’t look at his record and think that this would be a person who will support a negotiation that could lead to a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Maduro has also an obstacle to that, no doubt.
But having Abrams involved sends the worst kind of signals about the intentions of the U.S., and about the frame of mind of those who are seeking to intervene. In my opinion Venezuela’s next leader should be elected in free and competitive elections, and be able to speak both to the legitimate concerns and needs of chavista voters as well as supporters of the opposition.
I don’t see why Abrams should have any role to play in this, and I don’t see why we should rehabilitate someone who, in my estimation, is guilty, has not paid for his crimes, and has not accepted that he is guilty.
*Al Haig served as Nixon’s Chief of Staff after H.R. Handleman was fired for the Watergate burglary. He also served as Reagan’s Secretary of State.
4) Rep. Jackie Speier (D–CA) told CNN’s New Day she thinks President Trump’s real estate dealings violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which governs U.S. businesses’ dealings with foreign investors.
“I have thought for a very long time that the President, as a real estate developer, had violated what’s called the Foreign Corrupt Practices act.”
Speier says she’s focusing on three Trump hotel projects:Toronto, Soho and Panama.
5) Trump’s inauguration planner got a discount at the Trump Hotel DC, yet was told to submit her receipts to Reince Preibus (for reimbursement). Meaning the RNC is funneling money directly into Trump’s pocket!
6) Citizens For Ethics (CREW) leaned that Ivanka Trump’s business picked up a new trademark in Canada.
So Ivanka now has trademarks for passport organizers in both Canada and Mexico even while her father tries to revise NAFTA.
7) The president’s businesses received nearly $3.8 million from political committees during the two-year 2018 campaign cycle, The top political customers: Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party.
9) A U.S. Army regiment held its annual ball last night at the Trump Hotel DC- so soldiers were potentially sending money up the chain of command. Pictures of them in uniform in front of the hotel’s logo made it to social media.
10) Senator Warren wrote a letter to three Mar-a-Lago members who’ve been influential in V.A. decisions. She does not believe any of the three are V.A. employees or contractors. She doesn’t believe they ever received VA ethics training. And she wants to find out what companies they’ve invested in.
I’m posting John Dingell’s final words, which he submitted to the Washington Post.
This was a public servant who truly made America great.
John D. Dingell in 2014. (Jeff Kowalsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
ByJohn D. Dingell
February 8 at 4:03 PM
John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.
One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.
In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.
And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.
My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.
Think about it:
Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.
Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.
We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.
And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time, they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.
Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.
I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.
But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).
In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”
It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).
I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.
As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.
This piece from The Atlantic sheds light on why Joe Kennedy III endorsed Elizabeth Warren today. My thoughts on Sanders are well known. He’s an awful candidate, a divisive figure, and a sketchy politician.
The more I think about it, the more I realize there is NO WAY I would vote for Sanders or Tulsi Gabbard. Both are completely unfit for the highest office in the land – just a tiny bit better than Trump. Speaking of which, expect Putin’s army of trolls and bots to descend on social media like locusts once again. These two will become the beneficiaries for 2020.
Bernie Sanders has seen himself as on a mission since he started running for office in the 1970s, and he sees no reason to stop now. He thinks he’s dramatically changed the conversation over the past three years, and he feels like he’s close to achieving his ultimate goal.
Plus, there’s Donald Trump.
When the president used his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to preview his own reelection campaign and warn against creeping socialism, Sanders was only encouraged. He’d love to take on Trump directly, and people around him think he’ll be able to use Trump’s threat to coalesce support in the primaries.
“Nothing unifies Democrats like being made a villain by Trump,” said one Sanders ally.
The senator from Vermont has been huddling with staff in meetings and brainstorming on phone calls over the past few weeks, chewing over plans. Barring a surprise, last-minute change of heart, he will jump into the 2020 race, convinced he can win, according to people familiar with his plans. His spokeswoman, Arianna Jones, did not return a request for comment on Sanders’s plans.
Last time, he didn’t get in until the end of April 2015. This time, the launch will be in February. He sees advantage in a much more crowded 2020 field. The left-leaning politics he campaigned on in 2016 have been broadly embraced in a progressive surge among Democrats, and Sanders has succeeded in diminishing the nominating power of so-called super delegates, the elected officials and party elders who help consolidate establishment power within the Democratic National Committee.
Sanders will likely announce an exploratory committee in the coming weeks, followed by a rally. One major early focus will be finding a campaign manager and other top-level staffers who are not white, and preferably not male, in light of his problems appealing to minority voters in 2016 and recent revelations of sexual harassment by lower-level staffers on the 2016 campaign. Staff interviews have been quietly under way.
But a core team of advisers will return from 2016, spearheaded by Sanders’s wife and closest adviser, Jane O’Meara Sanders.
His aides know this race will be different from his 2016 run against Hillary Clinton, when he surprised even himself with how close he came to knocking her off. Democratic leaders have been impressed by the extent to which the ideas from his campaign have carried forward, injecting far-left populism into the mainstream of Democratic politics—even as many in the party still bitterly point to his candidacy as weakening Clinton to the point that Trump was able to win.
Sanders has heard the argument that his stature would be diminished by running again if he doesn’t end up winning the nomination. He’s heard the argument that he might split the progressive vote and allow a more moderate candidate to win, but that hasn’t moved him either. That’s not how Sanders thinks, people who know him point out.
“He understands what happens in the streets is what prompts actions in Washington,” said Vincent Fort, a former Georgia state senator who supported the last campaign and has been in touch with Sanders’s team about this campaign.
There are also the nuts-and-bolts political considerations that Sanders doesn’t focus as much on, but that his team pays close attention to: He’s the one with the massive email list. Alone among those eyeing the Democratic nomination, he’s the one who had 40,000 people watching various live-streams of his State of the Union response. He’s the one whose team thinks he could, on day one, raise more money online and get more attention than any of the other candidates.
Sanders believes that he continues to have the strength in Iowa and New Hampshire to either win or come close there—especially with other candidates fragmenting support and lowering the bar for what it will take to win. Likewise, in a South Carolina primary that has both Cory Booker and Kamala Harris competing for African American votes and, likely, Joe Biden drawing on his own decades of connections there, Sanders sees a path to slip through and win.
Biden in the race, after all, would make it so that the senator isn’t the only white man in his 70s in the field.
If the early states all come together, Sanders would be positioned to power through the front-ended primary calendar that has California, Texas, and several other big states voting on the first Super Tuesday, March 4, just a month after Iowa. No one else in the field has anything like his proven success with both grassroots supporters and the small-dollar online fundraising that it will take to fund the kind of massive national operation any 2020 campaign will require.
“With all the other people in, the fact is, Bernie is the one whose ideas everyone else is ‘borrowing,’ whether it be Wall Street reforms, or Medicare for all, or free college. These are all ideas that Bernie came up with first and best,” Fort said. “I’m a little bit skeptical of the sincerity of some of the latecomers.”
Changes to DNC procedures, which Sanders and his team fought for, have diminished the role of the caucuses where Sanders ran the strongest in 2016, but they have also taken power away from the elected officials and party elders who might, for example, help tilt a tight race to Biden or another candidate who isn’t an outsider insurgent.
Sanders’s team has been eyeing Beto O’Rourke nervously, given the former Texas congressman’s strong online presence and appeal with many of the same types of voters that Sanders taps into. O’Rourke also drew significant support from young former Sanders staffers who helped build the 2016 campaign into what it was. But there’s a sense that O’Rourke’s support is flagging, as he continues to talk about running without making a decision.
Now a Sanders candidacy would seem to be the biggest threat to Elizabeth Warren, who’s been campaigning on her own anti-corporate platform, with proposals such as a new tax on the ultrarich. Aides to the senator from Massachusetts have been preparing her on how to respond. But though they will clearly compete for some of the same voters, Sanders and his aides have always seen him as a greater threat to her than she is to him, and have been encouraged by the continuing problems she’s facing from the controversy over her claims of Native American heritage. He’s the one with the devoted followers, Sanders and his aides believe, and some of them are still angry at Warren for deciding to sit out the 2016 primary race rather than endorsing him.
What a Sanders candidacy may do for Warren, though, is enable her not to seem as radical as his democratic socialism. It might also enable her to note that she’s a generation younger than Sanders, as opposed to currently being the oldest Democratic candidate in the field. And a Sanders candidacy might allow Warren to argue that she’s largely in line with him politically, but the one who could actually win.
A Warren spokeswoman declined comment on how Warren would position herself if Sanders runs.
Sanders boosters note that with a field this big, coming in first in Iowa might take only about 30 percent of the vote, and that he came just shy of 50 percent of the vote there against Clinton. Rules changes to the caucuses might also play to Sanders’s favor, clarifying an arcane process that weighs votes in a way that can make the final results not fully representative of the number of people who actually show up on caucus night.
But Sanders skeptics doubt that he fully appreciates how much of the approximately 45 percent of the primary vote he received in 2016 was fundamentally an anti-Clinton vote, and doubt that he realizes how many of those people might leave him once they realize how many other choices they have. Unlike in his last run, he will start right away with the spotlight of a presumed front-runner on him, and issues involving his background and record that were overlooked in 2016 will likely receive new scrutiny. Warren, Biden, and Harris have been the focus of most of the Republican attacks and reporters’ digging so far, but that dynamic may shift if Sanders continues to run as strong as public polling suggests.
There’s the potential that once he’s in, any stumbles will be higher profile, and any drop-off in the polls could suggest he’s leaching support. Already, in the past week he waited until after all the declared Democratic candidates to call for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign over the blackface/Ku Klux Klan–hood photo. He also faced outrage for doing his own State of the Union response for the third year in a row; this year’s followed Stacey Abrams’s official Democratic response. Some griped that he was being disrespectful, a charge that Sanders and his team found ridiculous, even as they dealt with the fallout.
He spent most of his response explaining how Trump’s supposed economic miracle hasn’t reached many people in the country.
“I know that this will probably not shock you—I hate to say this—but not everything Donald Trump said tonight was true or accurate,” Sanders said immediately after the president’s address in a live video on social media. “For many of President Trump’s billionaire friends, the truth is, they have never, ever had it so good. But for the middle class, and for the working families of our country, the truth is that the economy is not so good.”
Federal prosecutors in New York are probing whether the National Enquirer’s parent company violated a cooperation agreement in its handling of the story regarding Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Bezos claims American Media Inc. threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the tabloid obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.
Two people familiar with the matter tell The Associated Press that prosecutors are looking at whether an email exchange Bezos published shows AMI violated an agreement it struck to avoid prosecution for alleged campaign finance violations. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The agreement requires AMI commit no crimes for three years. AMI did not respond to requests for comment.
It was a safe assumption this would happen after last night’s bombshell development.
What seems like a slam dunk – that David Pecker and AMI voided the plea agreement with the FBI’s Southern District of New York branch – I’m not entirely convinced the SDNY can prove AMI committed a crime.
Here’s Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor:
Did the National Enquirer and its parent company commit a crime or otherwise break the law in its recent actions towards Jeff Bezos?
In the Medium post contained in the tweet above, Amazon founder (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos explains how the parent company of the National Enquirer engaged in what Bezos characterizes as “extortion and blackmail” towards him. It is worth reading.
In the Medium post, Bezos explained that he hired someone to conduct an investigation of the National Enquirer and its parent company. He notes that there are “now several independent investigations looking into this matter,” suggesting there are criminal investigations. To be clear, if the National Enquirer or its parent company caused someone to hack into Bezos’ computer, server, or smart phone, that is a crime. (The National Enquirer’s parent company claims it did not do so.) The subject of Bezos’s post is something that happened after.
Specifically, the parent company of the National Enquirer told Bezos that it had many compromising photos and texts that it had not published but would publish if he did not agree to certain terms, which it sent to Bezos, who included them within the Medium post. The terms were written by a Deputy General Counsel for AMI (the parent company), and they were sent *after* a descriptive email from AMI’s Chief Content Officer describing in graphic detail the private photos and messages that AMI had in its possession.
In the proposed terms, among other things, both sides (Bezos and AMI) agreed to release each other of any legal claims, Bezos agreed to state that AMI’s coverage of Bezos was not politically motivated, and AMI agreed not to publish any of the private material. The terms explicitly stated that if Bezos didn’t abide by the deal, AMI could publish the material. To be clear, when I say “terms,” I’m using a legal word–this is drafted as if they are terms in a settlement agreement between AMI and Bezos. That is important.
So is this extortion or blackmail, as Bezos claims?
Yes, given the ordinary meaning of those terms. But whether this is actually a *crime* is much more complicated than that. Situations like this are common and I have represented clients in a situation similar to Bezos.
What is extortion? Typically it’s when someone demands money in exchange for keeping something embarrassing private. While we ordinarily have a First Amendment right to say whatever we please, it can be a crime to threaten to say something unless money is paid.
This situation is more complex than that. Bezos has potential legal claims against AMI, if AMI engaged in wrongdoing against Bezos. Also, the AMI Chief Content Officer hinted that they believe the Washington Post will publish a false story about AMI. AMI would surely argue that this is a legitimate settlement of its dispute with Bezos. They realize that Bezos has claims against them, and perhaps they could make claims against Bezos or the Washington Post. The agreement would release those claims.
AMI would also argue that the agreement calls for both sides not to publish damaging information about the other side, and that the descriptive email from the Chief Content Officer was merely part of its settlement negotiations, to show Bezos that their offer had value.
Was AMI’s action slimy? Yes.
Is it consistent with some of the questionable practices that AMI engaged in on behalf of Trump and others? Yes.
But is this the sort of case federal prosecutors would charge as extortion? No.
To make this out as an extortion case, prosecutors would have to argue that the claims Bezos had against AMI constituted “money or property” of Bezos and that the whole settlement proposal was merely window dressing for the extortion of Bezos by AMI. You can make those arguments, but it would be a very hard trial to win. And that’s without considering a potential First Amendment defense. AMI would also have an advice of counsel defense, because those terms appear to have been drafted by a lawyer.
So what about the AMI Non Prosecution Agreement with the Southern District of New York federal prosecutors? (Link below.) The agreement would obligate AMI to fully cooperate with a SDNY investigation of this matter. But if this wasn’t a crime, it doesn’t violate the agreement. It does shift things to an extent because prosecutors could claim that this was a crime and use that to void the Non Prosecution Agreement.
AMI would certainly challenge that in court, but the standard would not be the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that they would be entitled to in a criminal trial. That said, for the reasons above, I don’t think federal prosecutors will go down that road. (If they did, they would spend a lot of resources fighting with AMI just to have the right to bring criminal charges against individuals at AMI that they were willing to forego bringing in the first place. Not a good use of prosecutorial resources.) As I mentioned earlier, moves like this are fairly common when there are legal disputes between people or companies as a way for one side to gain leverage over the other. It is despicable but I have had no success convincing federal prosecutors to bring charges.
Okay, so again, it’s unclear where the law stands with regard to what AMI and David Pecker attempted to do to Jeff Bezos.
But there’s much more going on here than just whatever happened with these two. I posted some of the things Will Bunch brought up earlier.
But there’s also this development: Ronan Farrow, one of the preeminent investigative journalists of the #MeToo era, posted the following statement today:
I and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about the National Enquirer’s arrangement with Trump fielded similar “stop digging or we’ll ruin you” blackmail efforts from AMI. (I did not engage as I don’t cut deals with subjects of ongoing reporting.)
This prompted Ted Bridis, a former editor at the Associated Press, to reply:
We were warned explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private investigators to dig into backgrounds of @AP journalists looking into the tabloid’s efforts on behalf of Trump. Never saw evidence of this either way, and it didn’t stop our reporting.
I’d just like to remind people that this blackmail technique is very popular in Putin’s Russia. It’s used against political opposition, journalists, and probably even allies.
Julia Ioffe has been covering and reporting from Russia for a long time. She wrote an excellent piece about Kompromat for the Atlantic a couple years ago.
One problem with Trump’s endless corruption and lawlessness is how stories that would potentially dominate the news get short shrift. This one has to do with an incident that took place in Houston last week.
EXCLUSIVE: KHOU11 Investigates confirms that a veteran Houston Police narcotics officer has been temporarily relieved of duty due to “ongoing questions” about his role in the drug search warrant served last week on Harding Street that ended in a deadly shootout.
This thread is from a person who follows police abuses.
A VERY TROUBLING THREAD: Remember that weird police shootout during a no-knock raid in Houston last week?
It was immediately obvious the raid was fishy. An anonymous 911 caller reported drugs at a home owned by 59-year-old disabled Navy veteran Dennis Tuttle and his wife Rhogena.
But neither had any criminal record. And friends and family say there’s no way they were dealers.
Some Houston detectives set up an investigation. They claimed they did a controlled purchase of brown powder heroin using a confidential informant. They also claimed to have kept the home under surveillance after the purchase and up until the raid.
The cops signed an affidavit stating there was heroin in the house along with a 9mm handgun. The cops swore they confirmed the informant was clean prior to the purchase, and that they personally inspected the heroin he allegedly purchased.
Before entering, the cops didn’t announce their presence, and upon entry, the lead officer shot the couple’s dog. The police were then met with gunfire from Mr. Tuttle using a .357 revolver. When the smoke cleared, Dennis and Rhogena were dead and five officers were wounded.
They didn’t find any evidence that Mr. Tuttle was a heroin dealer. Just a small amount of personal marijuana and some white powder (probably some coke or crushed pills or whatever). But no packages of heroin ready for sale described in the affidavit, or the 9mm handgun.
Everything was fishy. People started asking questions. What the hell happened? Were they at the wrong house? Activist groups were becoming vocal.
As criticism grew, Houston Police Department Union President @JoeGamaldi made some wildly improper statements, threatening to track anyone “spreading the rhetoric that police are the enemy,” and “hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers.”
Nonetheless, Houston City Council members doubled-down on their unconditional support for Gamaldi and the Houston Police Department, scolding Ashton Woods of Houston Black Lives Matter for having the audacity to express outrage about Gamaldi’s repulsive jack-booted tirade.
Fast forward a few days, and news breaks that one of the officers involved has been relieved of duty. And the rumor flying around among local journalists is not that police were at the wrong house…but that the “controlled purchase” NEVER EVEN HAPPENED.
As these whispers began to percolate among the media, HPD’s Chief Art Acevado released a statement acknowledging that an internal investigation was underway into “questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the search warrant.”
And the Harris County DA put out a statement saying their Civil Rights Division is tasked with the case:
Statement from District Attorney Ogg on the recent officer-involved shooting at the 7800 block of Harding:
“Our Civil Rights Division prosecutors are currently working with the Houston Police Department’s special investigation team to look at every aspect of this incident. As is our policy, every shooting by a police officer – in every instance – is presented to a grand jury to determine if any criminal charges are warranted.”
At the same time, the chorus calling for the firing of HPOU President Joe Gamaldi continues to intensify:
The lead HPD case-agent for the botched raid remains in the hospital, unable to communicate due to his wounds. In the meantime, the community sits on pins and needles waiting to learn exactly what happened to Dennis and Rhogena and what reckoning must follow.
In light of Jeff Bezos accusing AMI of blackmail last night, the most important questions are: How did AMI come into possession of Bezos’ texts? Was it someone working for the US government? Was it someone working for a foreign government? Was it done at Trump’s behest? Jared Kushner’s? How many other people has…
I’m sitting here trying to write a deep dive about Watergate…and what do you know…Trump o’clock happens!
Here’s a quick summary of what will certainly be a story to remember when this nightmare is covered in the history books:
Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world.
Bezosowns Amazon and The Washington Post.
Bezos and his wife announced they were separating a few months ago.
Last month the National Enquirerpublished details of an affair Bezos had before he and his wife announced the separation. Texts between the two were also shared.
Bezos just released a letter from American Media Incorporated that can best be described as extortion. They want him to drop an investigation the Washington Post is working on.
The investigation Pecker wants dropped is about the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
This has Jared Kushner’s name written all over it.
AMI is the parent company for the National Enquirer, Star, Sun, Weekly World News, Globe, Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Fit Pregnancy, and Shape.
David Pecker is the chairman and CEO of AMI.
Pecker was caught paying for damaging and embarrassing stories about Donald Trump and “killing them” (they never saw the light of day).
The most famous instance is with Karen McDougal, who filed a lawsuit against AMI, to invalidate the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) preventing her from speaking about an extramarital affair with Trump.
Pecker directed AMI to purchase exclusive rights to the story for $150K in 2016.
The FBI’s Southern District of New York recently accepted a plea agreement with AMI for a campaign finance violation based on an understanding that Pecker wouldn’t do it anymore.
AMI is clearly in violation of that agreement.
A few quick points to keep in mind while you’re reading this:
From the SDNY agreement with AMI from last year:
“It is understood that, should AMI commit any crimes subsequent to the date of signing of this Agreement, or should the Government determine that AMI or its representatives have knowingly given false, incomplete, or misleading testimony or information, or should AMI otherwise violate any provision of this Agreement, AMI shall thereafter be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation of which this Office has knowledge, including perjury and obstruction of justice”
18 U.S.C. § 875(d) makes it a federal crime to send an interstate communication with the extent to extort a thing of value from someone by threatening to injure his “property or reputation.”
The president knew something like this was in the works three weeks ago:
Donald J. Trump Verified account@realDonaldTrump
So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!
8:45 PM – 13 Jan 2019
No thank you, Mr. Pecker
Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.
AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, led by David Pecker, recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign. Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.
And sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together:
“After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions…”
I didn’t know much about most of that a few weeks ago when intimate texts messages from me were published in the National Enquirer. I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer. As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.
To lead my investigation, I retained Gavin de Becker. I’ve known Mr. de Becker for twenty years, his expertise in this arena is excellent, and he’s one of the smartest and most capable leaders I know. I asked him to prioritize protecting my time since I have other things I prefer to work on and to proceed with whatever budget he needed to pursue the facts in this matter.
Here’s a piece of context: My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.
President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.
(Even though The Post is a complexifier for me, I do not at all regret my investment. The Post is a critical institution with a critical mission. My stewardship of The Post and my support of its mission, which will remain unswerving, is something I will be most proud of when I’m 90 and reviewing my life, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, regardless of any complexities it creates for me.)
Back to the story: Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.
A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation.
My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos, and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy.
AMI’s claim of newsworthiness is that the photos are necessary to show Amazon shareholders that my business judgment is terrible. I founded Amazon in my garage 24 years ago, and drove all the packages to the post office myself. Today, Amazon employs more than 600,000 people, just finished its most profitable year ever, even while investing heavily in new initiatives, and it’s usually somewhere between the #1 and #5 most valuable company in the world. I will let those results speak for themselves.
OK, back to their threat to publish intimate photos of me. I guess we (me, my lawyers, and Gavin de Becker) didn’t react to the generalized threat with enough fear, so they sent this:
From: Howard, Dylan [firstname.lastname@example.org] (Chief Content Officer, AMI) Sent: Tuesday, February 5, 2019 3:33 PM To: Martin Singer (litigation counsel for Mr. de Becker) Subject:. Jeff Bezos & Ms. Lauren Sanchez Photos
CONFIDENTIAL & NOT FOR DISTRIBIUTION
I am leaving the office for the night. I will be available on my cell — 917 XXX-XXXX.
However, in the interests of expediating this situation, and with The Washington Post poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors of The National Enquirer’s initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering.
In addition to the “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick’” — The Enquirer obtained a further nine images. These include:
· Mr. Bezos face selfie at what appears to be a business meeting.
· Ms. Sanchez response — a photograph of her smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene.
· A shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts — and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment.
· A full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring.
· A selfie of Mr. Bezos fully clothed.
· A full-length scantily-clad body shot with short trunks.
· A naked selfie in a bathroom — while wearing his wedding ring. Mr. Bezos is wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen.
· Ms. Sanchez wearing a plunging red neckline dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region.
· Ms. Sanchez wearing a two-piece red bikini with gold detail dress revealing her cleavage.
It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.
Well, that got my attention. But not in the way they likely hoped. Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)
In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they’ll publish the photos, and quickly. And there’s an associated threat: They’ll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie.
Be assured, no real journalists ever propose anything like what is happening here: I will not report embarrassing information about you if you do X for me. And if you don’t do X quickly, I will report the embarrassing information.
Nothing I might write here could tell the National Enquirer story as eloquently as their own words below.
These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism. Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.
From: Fine, Jon [email@example.com] (Deputy General Counsel, AMI) Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 5:57 PM To: Martin Singer (Mr de Becker’s attorney) Subject: Re: EXTERNAL* RE: Bezos et al / American Media et al
Here are our proposed terms:
1. A full and complete mutual release of all claims that American Media, on the one hand, and Jeff Bezos and Gavin de Becker (the “Bezos Parties”), on the other, may have against each other.
2. A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility.
3. AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).
4. AM affirms that it undertook no electronic eavesdropping in connection with its reporting and has no knowledge of such conduct.
5. The agreement is completely confidential.
6. In the case of a breach of the agreement by one or more of the Bezos Parties, AM is released from its obligations under the agreement, and may publish the Unpublished Materials.
7. Any other disputes arising out of this agreement shall first be submitted to JAMS mediation in California
Deputy General Counsel, Media
American Media, LLC
Jon P. Fine
Deputy General Counsel, Media
O: (212) 743–6513 C: (347) 920–6541
February 5, 2019
Martin D. Singer
Laveley & Singer
Re: Jeff Bezos / American Media, LLC, et al.
Dear Mr. Singer:
I write in response to your February 4, 2019, letter to Dylan Howard, and to address serious concerns we have regarding the continuing defamatory activities of your client and his representatives regarding American Media’s motivations in its recent reporting about your client.
As a primary matter, please be advised that our newsgathering and reporting on matters involving your client, including any use of your client’s “private photographs,” has been, and will continue to be, consistent with applicable laws. As you know, “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting . . . is not an infringement of copyright.” 17 USC Sec. 107. With millions of Americans having a vested interest in the success of Amazon, of which your client remains founder, chairman, CEO, and president, an exploration of Mr. Bezos’ judgment as reflected by his texts and photos is indeed newsworthy and in the public interest.
Beyond the copyright issues you raise, we also find it necessary to address various unsubstantiated defamatory statements and scurrilous rumors attributed to your client’s representatives in the press suggesting that “strong leads point to political motives”1 in the publication of The National Enquirer story. Indeed, you yourself declared the “politically motivated underpinnings” of our reporting to be “self-evident” in your correspondence on Mr. de Becker’s behalf to Mr. Howard dated January 31, 2019.
Once again, as I advised you in my February 1 response to your January 31 correspondence, American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise. Simply put, this was and is a news story.
Yet, it is our understanding that your client’s representatives, including the Washington Post, continue to pursue and to disseminate these false and spurious allegations in a manner that is injurious to American Media and its executives.
Accordingly, we hereby demand that you cease and desist such defamatory conduct immediately. Any further dissemination of these false, vicious, speculative and unsubstantiated statements is done at your client’s peril. Absent the immediate cessation of the defamatory conduct, we will have no choice but to pursue all remedies available under applicable law.
As I advised previously, we stand by the legality of our newsgathering and reporting on this matter of public interest and concern. Moreover, American Media is undeterred from continuing its reporting on a story that is unambiguously in the public interest — a position Mr. Bezos clearly appreciates as reflected in Boies Schiller January 9 letter to American Media stating that your client “does not intend to discourage reporting about him” and “supports journalistic efforts.”
That said, if your client agrees to cease and desist such defamatory behavior, we are willing to engage in constructive conversations regarding the texts and photos which we have in our possession. Dylan Howard stands ready to discuss the matter at your convenience.
All other rights, claims, counterclaims and defenses are specifically reserved and not waived.
In late June 2017, Texas political mega-donor Doug Deason had a stern message for Republicans seeking campaign donations: The “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until they repealed Obamacare and passed major tax cuts. Deason said he had urged about two dozen of his wealthy Texas friends to do the same. The billionaire Koch brothers Charles and David also hinted at withholding money.
Just weeks later, the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare collapsed. Tax reform, which one Republican senator said would make repealing Obamacare look like a piece of cake, ominously loomed as the next item on the GOP agenda, and time was running out. Panic set in. By November, as Congress struggled to push a massive tax cut bill forward, Rep. Chris Collins from New York summed up the stakes: “My donors are basically saying: ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”
Lawmakers got it done. Just days before the holiday break, relieved Republicans delivered those wealthy donors what they wanted: one of the biggest tax cuts in history, one that would almost exclusively benefit the wealthy.
From the looks of it, GOP politicians got what they wanted, too. From the time the tax bill was first introduced on Nov. 2, 2017, until the end of the year, a 60-day period, dozens of billionaires and millionaires dramatically boosted their political contributions unlike they had in past years, giving a total of $31.1 million in that two months, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics found.
The Center’s analysis found that 144 wealthy donors, some household names and some behind-the-scenes, contributed at least $50,000 to Republicans and conservative groups in that time frame. For 87 of those, three out of five, the surge of giving at year’s end reflected a marked change in their giving behavior. These well-heeled donors increased the share of their annual giving in the last two months of 2017 compared with previous off-year elections going back to 2009.
Most telling, say campaign finance experts, is that 25 wealthy donors gave all their 2017 money in the final two months of the year, the first time they did so during the previous four off-election years—2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, according to the Center’s analysis of data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. The contributions the Center analyzed do not include the hundreds of millions of dollars given to dark money groups, which are not required to identify donors.
The evidence shows that big donors, collectively, acted to leverage their clout to help push through the tax cut law that would enrich the kinds of corporations, limited partnerships, real estate holdings and huge investments that many of them own, campaign finance experts say.
For sure, donors give for many reasons, but the timing of the donations, said Tom Ferguson, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and an expert in money and politics, provides “a solid block of evidence that points to some very grateful people rewarding their champions.”
Grateful people such as Deason, who according to campaign finance records nearly shut down all donations to Republicans until the tax bill looked certain, told the Center in an email that holding off giving “certainly got some legislators’ attention but I think they were probably swayed by their own constituents who were giving them an earful.”
Not all wealthy donors march in lockstep. The Center found some big contributors give all year long, with their largesse ebbing and flowing, and sometimes even between political parties. Thirteen of the late givers to Republican causes also gave a total of $305,000 to Democratic candidates and organizations in the last two months of 2017. But many donors are typically motivated to give at particular moments, campaign finance experts say, and many of these rich donors were motivated to give at the end of 2017, a stretch of time that coincided with a significant political event: the passage of the tax bill that enriched the wealthy—some of the same wealthy donors who Republicans felt were essential to their survival.
Such giving is not unusual, said Thomas Stratmann, a professor at George Mason University who has shown how contributions to lawmakers from PACs are aimed at encouraging them to vote for a bill or to reward them for passing it. “Donors say: If you deliver this legislation, then we will pay and contribute” to your campaigns, he said.
Only eight wealthy donors responded to the Center’s request for an interview. They denied any connection between their giving and the tax law, or declined to either confirm or deny any linkage. The remaining 79 donors whose giving departed from earlier patterns didn’t return the Center’s requests for comment or could not be reached.
Among the politicians and PACs that benefited directly or indirectly from this flood of largesse were the Republican National Committee; Team Ryan, run by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; and the Trump Victory committee, which has ties with the RNC and state Republican committees. Also receiving a large share of the contributions were the Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund, whose goals are to elect Republicans to Congress.
Among the top three PACs receiving the most money was one operated by Restoration Action, a so-called social welfare organization. At one time, Restoration Action listed on its website more than two dozen goals it was pursuing, including reducing “every federal tax by 25%.” Money also went to smaller leadership PACs run by individual lawmakers, such as one managed by Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and a member of the Finance Committee, which pushed through the tax bill, as well as statewide PACs that support Republican candidates and organizations.
None of the organizations the Center reached out to replied to requests for comment.
Famous and not so
The billionaire donors the Center identified as changing their giving pattern represent a Who’s Who of GOP megadonors: Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of the private equity and property firm Blackstone Group L.P., and his wife Christine; Elliott Broidy, head of investment firm Broidy Capital Management, who was implicated in questionable business dealings and other matters related to Trump and associates (he denies any wrongdoing); and Joseph Craft III, chief executive of the coal mining firm Alliance Resource Partners L.P., a close acquaintance of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, and husband of Kathy Knight Craft, the Trump administration’s U.S. ambassador to Canada. Also giving in late 2017 was Imaad Zuberi, who runs venture capital firm Avenue Ventures LLC; Zuberi was named in a subpoena served this month by federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into the Trump inaugural committee. Zuberi, who also has given to Democratic candidates, gave proportionally more in late 2017 than he has in the past, donating $133,900 between the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Trump Victory committee. Zuberi did not respond to a request for comment.
The Koch brothers gave heavily in the last two months of 2017, but they donated late in previous years as well. Still, because they had hinted they were holding off until they saw progress on the tax bill, the donations by Charles and Elizabeth Koch of $247,700 each to Team Ryan—all on Nov. 29, 2017—were noteworthy.
Several big multinational companies that saw their tax rates slashed but had rarely given in the waning months of an off-election year also decided to pony up big money at a time the tax law looked certain. Occidental Petroleum Corp. in Houston, one of the three largest oil producers in Texas, gave $300,000 between the Congressional and Senate leadership funds. RAI Services Co., a subsidiary of cigarette giant Reynolds American Inc., gave $250,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund. Executives at Occidental and RAI Services did not respond to requests for comment.
Smaller companies also stepped out of their giving pattern. Just one day before Trump signed the tax bill into law, real-estate developer Hillwood Development Co. LLC, founded by H. Ross Perot Jr., son of 1990s presidential candidate and billionaire H. Ross Perot, divvied up $1.5 million between the Congressional Leadership Fund and American Crossroads, which is linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and dedicated to electing Republicans to the Senate. Perot did not respond to requests for comment.
The list also included the not-so-well-known, such as William Austin, chief executive of Starkey Hearing Technologies Inc., the nation’s largest privately held hearing-aid manufacturer. He also upped his donations in late 2017 unlike previous years, writing a check for $75,000 to the RNC in December when the House and Senate were hashing out differences between their two tax bills. Austin and his wife, Tani, give to Democrats as well, donating heavily to Democratic causes in the first part of 2017, including to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Also on the list: Edmund Schweitzer III, founder of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, Washington, which builds systems that protect power grids, and his wife Beatriz. On Dec. 19, 2017, when the House agreed to the final bill, the couple gave a combined $300,000 to McMorris Rodgers American Dream Project, a joint fundraising committee run by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., which recruits and funds “candidates who believe in the American Dream,” according to her website. Austin and the Schweitzers didn’t return requests for comment.
Among those super-rich were many who had never—or just once— given in an off-year election at any time going back to 2009 but felt compelled to open their wallets in the last two months of 2017 to collectively lavish Republican PACs and candidates with millions of dollars. Included in that group were Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder Companies cosmetic fortune and president of the World Jewish Congress, a nonpartisan group that advocates for Jewish communities in governments and international organizations; Larry Davis, with LNS Capital in Hawaii, whose wife, Nickie Lum Davis, has been linked to Broidy’s business dealings; and Craig Duchossios, chief executive of the Duchossios Group Inc. in Chicago, which owns garage door opener manufacturers and an investment firm. None returned requests for comment.
“Get tax reform passed”
In the first six months of 2017, Texas donor Deason gave $33,800 to Republican candidates. His last donation was made on June 30, just days after vowing, “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”
Deason, president of a firm that manages about $1.5 billion in assets from the family fortune, remained nearly true to his word. Between July 1, 2017, and Nov. 9, 2017, he gave just one time to a political candidate—a $2,700 donation in September to the campaign committee for Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican representing the congressional district northwest of Deason’s Dallas home.
By early November, though, the impossible started to look possible. The tax bill was speeding through Congress. On Nov. 9, 2017, a tax bill was introduced in the Senate and later that same day, the House Ways and Means Committee approved its version. Before the House committee voted on its bill, Rep. Joe Crowley, a Democrat from New York, chastised Republican colleagues for the sentiments reflected in those comments by Collins—that GOP donors would stop giving if there were no tax cut bill. (Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also gave a similar warning that day.)
“It couldn’t be more clear as to what the motivation is in terms of getting this bill rammed through the House of Representatives before Christmas,” Crowley said. “It is all based on the ‘D word,’ donors. …That is what you are putting together, a backroom deal for your donors.”