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Corruption-fighting US Attorney Fired by Trump, and more news from 3/13/17

March 13, 2017 | Adam Smith

Attorney General Sessions was forced to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, known for a string of public corruption convictions, after Bharara refused to resign along with the other attorneys on Friday. While it’s routine for a new administration to ask US Attorneys appointed by the previous one to step down, Trump made a big show of saying Bharara would stay on during his presidency. What changed?

A few things to note here:

  • The president actually tried to call Bharara on Thursday, an incredibly inappropriate breach of protocal. Why didn’t someone at the White House stop him? And why didn’t he know better?
  • The firing comes just days after Democracy 21, CREW, and Campaign Legal Center asked Bharara “to take steps to prevent The Trump Organization from receiving any financial benefits from foreign governments that benefit President Trump and do not comply with the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.”
  • Via the Times, “Mr. Bharara was among 18 United States officials barred from Russia in 2013 in retaliation to American sanctions imposed on Russians accused of rights violations.”
  • House Oversight Committing Ranking Member Elijah Cummings on Sunday: “Certainly there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump — President Trump — is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney, and whether that might affect his future.”
  • As U.S. Attorneys are Senate confirmed positions, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said this weekend, ” you’re not replacing real prosecutors with cronies w/out a massive fight.”
  • Bharara’s response to anonymous White House aides blasting him in the press is pretty solid: “It was my understanding that the president himself said anonymous sources are not to be believed.”

With a visit to his Virginia golf course on Saturday, Trump has officially made free infomercials for one of his properties every weekend of his presidency. The golf course is currently selling tickets for a tournament in May. He has been to Mar-a-Lago four times and had dinner at his DC hotel too. And, it’s not stopping anytime soon–Axios reports he’ll host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in April.

Speaking of Trump’s clubs, OpenSecrets notes that members at his various clubs around the world have reciprocity with Mar-a-Lago: “Which puts a much larger universe of people — thousands larger, in fact — in the position of potentially having conversations casual or substantive with Trump. And while the names of some (though far from all) Mar-a-Lago members have leaked out, the membership lists at the other clubs remain undisclosed.”

Campaign Finance/Election Law

I missed this letter to the editor in Akron from Sen. Sherrod Brown last weekend: “Judge Gorsuch has ruled that corporations are people and given them more rights than everyday Ohioans.” And this one in Maine: “With Gorsch as a Supreme Court justice, corporations would become more powerful and hold more influence over our government…”

New York Times: Democrats’ Line of Attack on Gorsuch: No Friend of the Little Guy
Because it’s true: “Democrats have zeroed in on their most prominent planned line of attack: Judge Gorsuch’s rulings have favored the powerful and well connected.”

New York Times: Texas Congressional Maps Are Struck Down for Discrimination
Good news: “A panel of federal judges in San Antonio has ruled that a handful of Texas congressional districts drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature in 2011 discriminated against black and Hispanic voters and violated the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.”Rick Hasen’s analysis.

With Trump expected to release his budget proposal this week, what’ll the funding for the Office of Government Ethics and FEC look like?

Argus Leader: After promising to replace, did lawmakers deliver on IM22?
After overturning the will of voters by repealing the ethics reform initiative passed in November, the legislature passed a series of weaker reforms: “People have called it a step, but a step is not a replacement.”

Center for Public Integrity: FEC earning congressional attention — for the wrong reasons
Will we see a House Oversight hearing of the FEC? Maybe! “The Federal Election Commission — an agency of clashing commissioners, seething staffers and key vacancies — may soon face congressmen who wonder: Why’s the agency a basket case?”

Congress/Administration

New York Times: Sue While the Conflicts Are Hot
Editorial on all the lawsuits piling up against Trump’s conflicts: “Possible conflicts are everywhere.”

The head of a super PAC was in the Oval Office last week and “subtly reminded Trump that her super-PAC stood by him ‘through thick and thin’ during the campaign, unlike a certain politician from Wisconsin.”

Politico: How Perdue’s power benefits his friends
Birds of a feather, etc: “President Donald Trump’s nominee for Agriculture secretary, agribusiness tycoon and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, has long mixed personal and political business to benefit his friends and business associates — and he’s on track to do it again, even before he’s confirmed to the Cabinet post.”

Politico: Holder, Pelosi, McAuliffe start redistricting fundraising
“Democrats leading the party’s new effort to coordinate political and legal resources to redraw state legislatures’ and House of Representatives’ maps will kick off the first phase of fundraising next weekend, heading to San Francisco on Saturday and Los Angeles on Sunday to make their case to some of California’s biggest donors.”

NJ.com: This N.J. company gave $5M to political insiders. Here’s what it may get for that.
Ah: “For the fourth straight election, Honeywell International Inc.’s political action committee led all corporate PACs in political giving. Before last weekend, the U.S. House passed legislation backed by the Morris Plains-based company to deal with asbestos claims.”

Fast Company: Trump’s Panama Problem
Uh: “Now, the extradition request highlights the potential conflicts of interest that have swirled around Trump: A decision that is usually made on the merits by career diplomats could be complicated by the president’s personal and business ties to Panama.”

Politico: Trump’s political group plagued by power struggle
“A political group launched by some of President Donald Trump’s top campaign advisers to boost the White House in its biggest policy fights has been conspicuously absent as Trump begins to sell his agenda, hobbled by staffing delays, internal jockeying for control and a struggle to win the favor of big donors.” The president did make sure to retweet them on Friday.

The Independent: Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest scandal ‘will eventually be too much to take’, Obama’s ethics lawyer says
“Norm Eisen, who was chief ethics counsel under former President Barack Obama, told The Independent that every decision the President makes is motivated by financial gain – including which countries to include on his travel ban executive order.”

NBC: Donald Trump Jr: At Fundraiser, President’s Son Says ‘Zero Contact’ With Dad
At a Texas fundraiser, Don Jr., who just recently attended his dad’s Supreme Court nominee announcement at the White House, says “I basically have zero contact” with dad.

Huffington Post: Trump Choosing Icahn Over Iowa
Revolving Door Project’s Jeff Hauser on Carl Icahn’s conflicts and what it means for his voters: “However, less has been made about how Trump’s assistance to Icahn represents a pivotal flip-flop against key Trump voters in favor of a donor and business partner.”

This analysis from GQR Research/Roosevelt Institute on its focus groups of Trump supporters in Macomb County, Mich. is interesting. Voters make clear they thought Clinton was corrupt, and they were voting for the guy who wasn’t (page 4). So when told about all the donors and Goldman Sachs executives Trump has been appointing, they start to get concerned–suggesting a liability specifically on this issue for him (page 17).

CNN: Trump transition knew of Flynn’s pro-Turkey lobbying before White House appointment
Wow: “The White House acknowledged Friday that President Donald Trump’s transition team was aware that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn engaged in work that would likely require him to register his consulting firm as a foreign agent before Flynn was tapped to serve as national security adviser.”

This column on Corey Lewandowski’s new business, which feels a lot like “hire us to keep the president from tweeting about you,” features Corey on the fainting couch over the accusation he is using Trump to cash out (“absolutely disgusting”).

Huffington Post: Democrats’ Letters Ask For Answers About Trump’s Conflicts, Ethics And Michael Flynn
Who’s saying Trump isn’t creating jobs? “The Trump administration’s conflicts of interest and ethics missteps have been a boon for the congressional letter-writing industry. The first week of March featured no less than five official letters sent by Democratic lawmakers asking for more information on the multitude of controversies swirling around President Donald Trump and his team.”

In Lousiana, voters are still mad about Bill Cassidy’s vote for Betsy DeVos: “Cassidy will naturally deny any connection between her contribution and his endorsement. Nevertheless, it would not be unreasonable for one to assume that Cassidy’s support for DeVos was somewhat less than coincidental, that it might actually have been purchased for the low, low price of $70,200.”

For a lighter, heartwarming read from the weekend, check out this fascinating Los Angeles Times piece on the obscure government agency that trucks our nuclear bombs around the country and how it’s dysfunctional and underfunded.

States/Other

Roanoke Times: Del. Sam Rasoul declines PAC, lobbyist money
In Virginia: “Del. Sam Rasoul said Wednesday he no longer will accept special interest PAC or lobbyist campaign contributions or any donations of more than $5,000 from individuals or businesses.”

Governing: Foreign Influence in State Elections? Not If Lawmakers Have a Say.
“Amid concerns that Russia helped sway the 2016 presidential election, several states are considering legislation that would bar companies with significant foreign ties from contributing money in state campaigns.” Naturally in here, the Center for Competitive Politics criticizes such a move.

Post-Dispatch: State’s top election official uses voter ID to raise campaign cash
“I’m making it harder to vote, so give me money” is a pretty crass message, y’all!

Adam Smith

Adam Smith is Every Voice's communications director.