Weekly recap: Regulators, lobbyists, and QAnon believers
On Saturdays, we recap the week’s top stories; select the day to go to that issue.
SEC chair posed with financial-services lobbyist at Trump Bedminster: Trump transition staffer turned lobbyist claimed to enjoy the “best fellowship” with Jay Clayton at Trump Bedminster; SEC spox says it was just a quick photo op
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Lobbyist met with a second government regulator at Trump’s N.J. golf course: Facebook reply could contradict SEC chair’s account of encounter with lobbyist
Appellate court tosses D.C. and Maryland AGs’ emoluments suit
The campaign for Rep. Louie Gohmert (R–TX) spent $995.10 at Trump Hotel N.Y. on May 17.
Devotees of QAnon, Christ, Trump flocked to president’s D.C. hotel: Trump supporters celebrated America’s independence from a monarchy by patronizing the president’s D.C. hotel
GSA dropped its appeal of a ruling requiring it to turn over unredacted document related to FBI headquarters relocation
Trump admin officials no longer keynoting climate-change deniers’ summit at Trump Hotel D.C.
Many of the White House social-media summit attendees on Thursday also made it to the president’s business down the street and used their social-media accounts to plug the hotel
House investigations (latest change, July 12, 2019)
The committee sent a inquiry to Deutsche Bank AG on its ties to Trump, according to the bank on Jan. 24. On March 1, Chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D–CA) said the bank is cooperating with her committee and that her staffers met with bank employees. On March 11, the committee requested documents on Trump’s businesses from Capital One; the bank said it was preserving documents but needed a subpoena to comply per Politico. On April 15, that subpoena was issued. The committee reportedly has subpoenaed nine banks for information about the president’s finances. President Trump, Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and their businesses sued Deutsche Bank and Capital One on April 30 to prevent them from sharing records with Congress. Deutsche Bank reportedly has been willing to cooperate with lawmakers. On May 3, the Trumps filed for a preliminary injunction to block the subpoenas. But the judge declined to issue that injunction on May 22, saying that the financial institutions can comply with the lawmakers’ request. The Trumps’ appealed that ruling on May 24. The lawmakers and Trumps agreed to refrain from enforcing the subpoenas until after the appellate court issued its ruling. The court announced it will expedite the briefing process, which will end on July 18, and hold a hearing held shortly thereafter.
Chair Elliot Engel (D–NY) “plans to investigate whether President Donald Trump’s businesses are driving foreign policy decisions, including whether Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution in the process” per CNN on Jan. 23.
On March 4, the committee “served document requests to 81 agencies, entities, and individuals believed to have information relevant to the investigation. Among the individuals the committee requested documents from are Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, Trump Org EVP and COO Michael Calamari, CFO Alan Weisselberg, EVP and chief legal officer Alan Garten, Trump tax attorney Sherri Dillon, longtime Trump executive assistant Rhona Graff, former Trump advisor Felix Sater (whom it interviewed on March 21), former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and Trump associate and inaugural chair Tom Barrack. The committee received “tens of thousands” of documents by its March 18 deadline, according to its chair, Jerry Nadler (D–NY). Among the respondents: Barrack, Steve Bannon, and the National Rifle Association. But more than half of the targets still had not replied by April 3. On that day, the committee authorized subpoenas for former White House aides Bannon, Ann Donaldson, Hope Hicks, Donald McGahn, and Reince Priebus, per Politico. And on May 21, the committee did in fact subpoena Hicks and Donaldson. Attorneys for the Trump Organization, Don Jr., and Eric did not respond to Politico’s inquires if their clients planned to reply. The committee is considering making additional document requests, including to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
On Feb. 6, Chair Adam Schiff (D–CA) said his committee would investigate links or coordination between the Russian government/foreign actors and individuals associated with Trump’s businesses, as well as if foreign actors sought to compromise or hold leverage over Trump’s businesses. Schiff hired a prosecutor experienced in combating Russian organized crime to lead the investigation.
On Feb. 10, Schiff said the committee would investigate Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, a major lender to the Trump Organization. On Jan. 24, the committee sent an inquiry to Deutsche Bank AG on its ties to Trump. On Feb. 28, an aide said the panel expects to interview Trump Org. CFO Allen Weisselberg.
During testimony on March 6, Michael Cohen turned over documents that allegedly show how Trump’s then-personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, edited Cohen’s statement regarding Trump Tower Moscow. Cohen later read this revised statement before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. In closed-door testimony in March, Cohen claimed the president submitted a false insurance claim regarding a fresco in Trump Tower. On July 9, Felix Sater testified but “refus[ed] to address whether he knew that the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, planned to lie under oath about a failed Trump Tower project in Moscow,” The Washington Post reported. Georgian-American businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze also discussed his Trump Tower Moscow proposal with the committee on June 26.
The committee seeks to interview inauguration organizer Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
On March 11, the committee requested documents on Trump’s businesses from Capital One; the bank “said it was already preserving documents but needs a subpoena in order to comply” per Politico. On April 15, that subpoena was issued. All told, the committee reportedly has subpoenaed nine banks for information about President Trump’s finances. President Trump, Don. Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and their businesses sued Deutsche Bank and Capital One on April 30, however, to prevent them from sharing financial records with Congress. Schiff said Deutsche Bank has been willing to cooperate with lawmakers. On May 3, the Trumps filed for a preliminary injunction to block the subpoenas. But judge Edgardo Ramos declined to issue that injunction on May 22, saying that the financial institutions can comply with the lawmakers’ request. The Trumps’ appealed that ruling on May 24. The lawmakers and Trumps agreed to refrain from enforcing the subpoenas until after the appellate court issues its ruling. The court announced it will expedite the briefing process, which will end on July 18, and hold a hearing held shortly thereafter.
Oversight and Reform
Chair Elijah Cummings’s (D–MD) staff “sent out 51 letters to government officials, the White House, and the Trump Organization asking for documents related to investigations that the committee may launch,” on Jan. 13. In a Feb. 15 letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Cummings said the committee received documents showing White House attorney Stefan Passantino and long-time Trump personal attorney Sheri Dillon provided “false information” to the Office of Government Ethics regarding Michael Cohen’s “hush-money payments.” As a result, Cummings wants to depose Passantino and Dillon; the White House, however, rejected Cummings’ request to interview Passantino. And on Feb. 27, Cohen testified to the committee about those payments and other Trump Organization business practices, which could lead to allegations of possible insurance fraud. The next day, House Democrats signaled they would seek testimony from Trump Organization officials whom Cohen alleged were implicated, including Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and CFO Allen Weisselberg.
On March 6, Cummings requested information from GSA about its reversal of a decision to relocate FBI headquarters, which is across the street from the Trump Hotel D.C. On April 12 Cummings wrote to the GSA again, this time requesting all monthly reports from the hotel, information about liens on the hotel, correspondence between the Trump Org and GSA, and legal opinions regarding the Trump Org’s compliance with the lease. Cummings gave an April 26 deadline; GSA failed to meet it, citing confidentiality concerns. Cummings threatened to issue a subpoena.
The committee also has requested 10 years of Trump’s financial records. On March 11, the committee requested documents on Trump’s businesses from Capital One; the bank “said it was already preserving documents but needs a subpoena in order to comply” per Politico. On April 12, Cummings notified committee members that he plans to subpoena Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, for his financial statements. President Trump, the Trump Organization, and the Trump Hotel D.C. sued Cummings and Mazars USA on April 22 in an attempt to prevent the release of Trump’s financial records. Cummings postponed the subpoenas’ deadline while the courts address the president’s suit. On May 20, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta denied the president’s motion. Trump appealed the next day and two days after that, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ judges agreed to fast track the case, with oral arguments scheduled for July 12. After the hearing. Politico’s Josh Gerstein predicted the judges would vote 2-1 against Trump. In a filing on June 10, Trump’s attorneys argued that the committee’s subpoena was invalid because “it is an effort to investigate alleged legal violations—power that is vested in the executive, not Congress.”
Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
Transportation committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D–OR) and subcommittee Chair Dina Titus (D–NV) sent a letter to GSA administrator Emily Murphy on Jan. 22 asking for all communication between the GSA and members of the Trump family dating back to 2015, an explanation of how the D.C. hotel calculates its profits, profit statements since the hotel opened, any guidance from the White House regarding the lease, and whether or not Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are recused from participating in decisions regarding the property. GSA has “sent a partial response and the subcommittee is reviewing it,” according to a senior House staffer familiar with the situation. When hearings begin, it is likely that Murphy will be the first person called to testify, according to a person familiar with the subcommittee’s plans. Titus is hiring additional staffers to handle the investigation.
On March 6, Titus requested information from GSA about its reversal of a decision to relocate FBI headquarters, which is across the street from the Trump Hotel D.C. NPR reported “Democrats on the committee want to know, among other things, whether there was any political pressure exerted on the GSA by the Trump White House, presidential campaign or transition team. They also want to know how the Trump Hotel calculates its profits, segregates incoming money from foreign governments, and what the Trump Organization owes the GSA on a monthly or annual basis.’”
Ways and Means
On April 3, Chair Richard Neal (D–MA) requested six years of Trump’s personal tax returns and the returns for eight of his businesses (including that of the trust that holds the president’s stake in the D.C. hotel). After the IRS missed Neal’s deadline and then an extension, Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin said he’d make a decision whether or not to release the returns by May 6. He declined to do so. On May 10, the committee subpoenaed Mnuchin and IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, giving them a May 17 deadline to turn over Trump’s tax returns. Mnuchin again declined to comply. Neal suspected he’d know his next move by May 24, but earlier he had indicated he’ll take the issue to the federal courts. On July 3, the committee sued the IRS for the returns.
The Oversight subcommittee held a hearing on “legislative proposals and tax law related to presidential and vice-presidential tax returns” on Feb. 7. “We will ask the question: Does the public have a need to know that a person seeking the highest office in our country obeys tax law?” said Chair John Lewis (D–GA). Tax law experts testified.
Lawsuits (latest change, July 11, 2019)
D.C. and MD attorneys general’s emoluments lawsuit
Official capacity—On Dec. 20, 2018, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it would hear the president’s appeal of district court rulings that allowed the case to proceed to discovery. The appellate court halted discovery in the case. Discovery had started Dec. 3 and was scheduled to run through Aug. 2, 2019, with the AGs having subpoenaed the Trump Organization, including its Scottish golf courses; the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, and Treasury and the GSA; and the state of Maine. Oral arguments on the appeal occurred on March 19; by all accounts the three-judge panel (all Republican appointees, including one who was a selection of President Trump’s) were skeptical of the AGs’ case. On July 10, as expected, the court ruled in President Trump’s favor and dismissed the suit, finding that the AGs did not have standing. Frosh and Racine said they would continue to pursue their options.
Individual capacity—On Dec. 14, Trump’s personal attorneys appealed the denial of their motion to dismiss the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Dec. 19, the AGs replied to Trump’s motion for a stay pending that appeal by dismissing the claims against him in his “individual capacity to allow the claims against President Trump in his official capacity to move forward expeditiously.” (The AGs brought suit against Trump in his individual capacity after the judge suggested they do so.) Trump’s attorneys, on Dec. 21, opposed the motion to dismiss at the district level, saying the appeals court now has jurisdiction and accused the AGs of “gamesmanship.” On July 10, the appeals court dismissed this case, ruling the AGs did not have standing to bring the suit. Frosh and Racine said they would continue to pursue their options.
Democratic senators, representatives’ emoluments lawsuit
On Sept. 28, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the legislators have standing to sue. Trump’s Justice Department attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal on Oct. 22. On Jan. 30, 2019, the plaintiffs’ filed a notice of supplemental authority, notifying the court of the GSA inspector general’s report that criticized GSA for failing to consider if the Trump Hotel D.C.’s lease was in compliance with the Constitution after Trump became president. Two days later, the president’s attorneys argued that the IG’s conclusion was not inconsistent with Trump’s argument, but that the judge should ignore that report anyway because the IG has no expertise in interpreting or applying the foreign emoluments clause. On April 30, Sullivan denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the suit. While the president’s attorneys have a supplemental brief due on May 28, on May 14 they filed a motion to stay the proceedings while they appeal Sullivan’s decision. A week later, the lawmakers opposed that motion. On June 25, Sullivan denied Trump’s motion to stay the proceedings pending appeal, paving the way for discovery to begin June 28 and last through Sept. 27. On July 8, the president’s DoJ attorneys notified the court that they will appeal its refusal to dismiss the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. According to Trump’s filing, the Democrats have issued 37 subpoenas, which require responses by July 29. The subpoenas “target information from a wide array of Trump’s businesses, including Trump Tower, his hotels in New York and Washington, and his Mar-a-Lago Club in South Florida, according to the constitutional Accountability Center, the legal group representing the Democrats in the case,” reported The Washington Post.
CREW et. al’s emoluments lawsuit
Cork’s unfair competition lawsuit
Judge Richard J. Leon dismissed the case on Nov. 26, 2018, writing “Cork has failed to state a claim for unfair competition under D.C. law.” On Dec. 10, Cork’s attorneys filed a notice of appeal and on Jan. 10, 2019 they submitted a statement of issues to be raised. Cork filed its first appellant brief on May 15, arguing “the District Court failed to recognize the evolving nature of the common law of unfair competition in the District of Columbia and erroneously treated the prior cases as if they were a series of statutes that Appellant had to satisfy to state a claim.” Attorneys for the president and his hotel requested a 31-day extension for filing their brief, with Cork’s consent, which the court granted on May 28. Trump’s brief is now due on July 15.
Employees’ class-action suit alleging racial discrimination
D.C. superior court (direct link not available, search for case 2017 CA 006517 B)
Two of the three plaintiffs did not appear at a status hearing on Jan. 25, 2019; their cases were moved to arbitration. Via email, their attorney, A.J. Dhali, said his clients did not appear because their case already had been moved to arbitration last year. The next status hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4.
Health inspections, current status (latest change, June 14, 2019)
❌BLT Prime and Benjamin Bar—nine violations on Aug. 10, 2018
❌Sushi Nakazawa—two violations on Aug. 10, 2018
✔️Banquet kitchen—no violations on May 16, 2019
✔️Pastry kitchen—one violations on May 16, 2019; it was corrected on site
✔️In-room dining—one violation on May 16, 2019; it was corrected on site
❌Northwest kitchen—three violations on May 16, 2019; two corrected on site
✔️Gift shop—no violations on May 7, 2018
✔️Employee cafeteria—no violations on May 16, 2019
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