It’s Manafort

CNN, Which Broke The Original Story, Says First Indicted Is Former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort

Just moments ago, CNN reported Paul Manafort is the subject of the sealed indictment. They are running live updates of the story as it breaks. CNN is also now reporting a second individual, Rick Gates, a Manafort associate, is being asked to turn himself in. The New York Times ran this profile of Gates back in June.

CNN has video of Manafort appearing at an FBI office this morning.

Former Trump Campaign Chief Paul Manafort (left)

Manafort is a pretty big fish, but not a complete surprise as the first indictment: he had been under investigation even before he went to work for Trump, due to ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and numerous offshore bank accounts. His home was also the subject of a dawn raid by FBI agents back in July.

We often discuss looking at the sourcing for hints about whether a story is coming from. The original CNN report was credited to “sources briefed on the matter”. Which would indicate someone outside Mueller’s team (and anyhow Mueller’s team seems to be virtually leak-free). So who else would know about it? The Justice Department, for one, meaning the leak would be coming from inside the Trump Administration. (On a side note, have you noticed how much less leaky the White House has become since Steve Bannon left?) Or possibly the attorney for the person who is about to be arrested. Or a friend.

A Guide To What To Look For Now

  • If Trump says or Tweets something in reaction that could then be used to build a case against him.
  • If Trump says or Tweets something that is intended as a communication of some type to the person who is being indicted, or other potential witnesses. This could take two forms: 1) A message of intimidation, suggesting people should keep their mouths shut or 2) A message of reassurance, for instance, a possible pardon.

We didn’t think of either of those things. We are paraphrasing fired U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, during an appearance on CNN, which you can watch here:

Of course the Trump distraction and disinformation campaign is well underway. With Trump Tweeting repeatedly that Russia was colluding with Hillary, not his campaign (“so much GUILT“). Ryan Lizza has a good review in the New Yorker of nothing new, really, just a reality check in case you might start feeling a bit disoriented.

Trump has also distanced himself from Manafort in the recent past, saying Manafort is someone he “knows”, but was on the campaign for “a very short period of time”.

We’re going to leave you with a couple of pieces from before the indicted party was identified, but have well-reasoned discussions of why Manafort was a likely first candidate for indictment. [New York Magazine] [Lawfare]

And of course we’ll have a lot more on this as things come into focus

Special Counsel Robert Mueller


Congress’ Tax Reform Proposal Is Becoming All About Taking Deductions Away From People In Order To Give Massive Cuts To Corporations

Forget about whether the House tax package benefits the rich more or the middle class more or who’s lying about what. There’s one fundamental truth: it’s primarily about giving huge tax cuts to corporations. And the plan that Republicans in Congress have promised to have ready this Wednesday looks like it could be full of unsavory proposals that eat away at the very fabric of America.

We don’t think we’re being hyperbolic when we say that. American ideals are under severe threat, and many Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be thinking twice about washing them away in a flood as destructive as any we’ve seen in this year’s terrible hurricanes.

The Washington Post calls their current undertakings “politics at it’s most cynical”. Of course a lot could change between now and Wednesday, and a lot could change after that.

But let’s take a look at a few things in House Tax Czar Kevin Brady’s current proposal: things that have survived multiple administrations under many political philosophies and have long been thought of as completely bipartisan cornerstones of modern day America, until perhaps this week

  • Home ownership: Since the 1950’s, at least, the federal government has encouraged people to buy their own homes by granting very generous tax benefits to homeowners. The new plan gets rid of mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions, but was supposed to replace them with a simpler “homeownership tax credit”. Now all of a sudden that might not be in the bill. If it does make it back in, it won’t be because of consumer complaints, it’ll be because of the intervention of the National Association of Home Builders. So either way, Congress’ll move to appease big business.
  • Saving for retirement: For several decades, as pension plans disappeared from many workplaces, the federal government took steps to encourage people to save by letting them set aside money tax free, in 401(k) plans. Even though the President Tweeted there’d be no changes to 401(k)’s it seems there likely will be, at least in this initial version. And it’ll be a huge change: instead of being able to set aside $18,000 a year or more tax free, it’ll be $2,400. Why would you take this perk away from individuals? To increase revenues in order to give big companies their huge tax break. No other reason.

The third big area Congress is looking to in order to increase revenues from individuals so it can give breaks to corporations is so-called “SALT” (State And Local Taxes). These are local income and property taxes which right now can be deducted on your federal return. Some Members of Congress argue these deductions are unfair because they favor people living in high tax states (which are mostly blue states that didn’t vote for Trump). Right now, the version Congress is working on will allow deduction of property taxes already paid to local governments, but not income tax.

How are Republicans justifying this? They say because of that big new tax break, corporations will hire more people and raise wages. So it’ll end up being great for people who are hurt by the things we just talked about. Right?

House Chief Tax Negotiator Kevin Brady (R) Texas with Trump



Puerto Rico’s Power Company Says Maybe Contract With Tiny Montana Firm Not Such A Good Idea

The power company’s director, who staunchly defended the controversial contract late last week now says “the best thing that can happen is its cancellation.” That’s after strong criticism continued over contract terms that blocked government audits and waived penalties for not completing work on schedule.

The contractor, Whitefish Energy is also under scrutiny because it hails from the same small town as Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Now, Puerto Rico will turn to agreements with utilities in Florida and New York, both of which have deep experience in hurricane response and rebuilding. 80% of Puerto Rico still does not have electricity.

And while many have wondered aloud whether the ambush of 4 soldiers in Niger is “Trump’s Benghazi”, we wonder if Whitefish Energy is “Trump’s Teapot Dome“? That scandal back in the 1920’s also centered around an oddball Interior Secretary and the awarding of contracts out West with unconventional terms.



Another Potentially Explosive Story Involving U.S. Soldiers In Africa

The Pentagon is investigating whether an Army Green Beret was strangled to death by two members of the Navy’s Seal Team Six while they were on secret assignment in the African country of Mali. The apparent murder of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar happened in June, and an investigation was launched almost immediately. However, it appears to be coming to light only now, after those 4 soldiers were killed in Niger.

This is the type of story that either fades away as quickly as it emerges, or becomes something huge. We’ll monitor and update.


We Saw Terrible And Great Things In Tennessee This Weekend

White Nationalists marched in Shelbyville, chanting “Closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation.”

But in Murfreesboro, they canceled a further rally when large numbers of counter-protestors turned up.

Perhaps we are getting too cynical. But as we cheer on the counter-protestors we wonder “Home many of them are actually going to go out and vote next time?” Even if they don’t agree 100% with the candidate? Because we’re pretty sure the folks on the other side are going to 100%, (and we already know who they’ve voting for)

One other thing. Republican Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander issued a statement we think the President should take a look at:

“The views of the white nationalists, Nazis, white supremacists and the Klan are wrong, they are un-American, they are not welcome, and we need to be loud and clear about that.”


The EPA Exists For A Reason

We talked last week about the EPA rolling back regulations on several toxic chemicals by cutting funding to track the public consequences of those chemicals, making them harder to regulate.

Now, Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times has an in-depth look at one of the chemicals in question, a pesticide studies show causes brain damage in children, and is found “in the umbilical cord blood of 87 percent of newborn babies tested”.

The EPA was supposed to ban it next spring, but no more.