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Kellyanne Conway’s White Nationalist Retweet Is No Mistake

Mother Jones

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Late Monday, coming off a long evening of responding to Gen. Mike Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway found solace in a tweet from a user named Lib Hypocrisy:

Conway not only retweeted the message but also wrote, “Love you back,” and wished her “Hapless Haters” a happy Valentine’s Day.

But there was just one problem: Lib Hypocrisy is an explicit promoter of white nationalism and other bigotry. This is evident from the account’s profile, which includes the hashtags “#WhiteIdentity” and “#Nationalist.” It features a cartoon image connoting Pepe the Frog, the adopted mascot of the racist “alt-right” movement, and a shout-out to Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician who wants to shut down mosques.

These are some of Lib Hypocrisy’s recent tweets and retweets:

Asked about her retweet of Lib Hypocisy by BuzzFeed on Tuesday, Conway implied that she hadn’t been in control of her account at the time. She said she “obviously” had no idea who Lib Hypocrisy was, adding, “I denounce whoever it is.” The tweets were soon deleted.

Conway’s move continues a long-standing pattern of Trump and his inner circle engaging with white nationalists and then claiming ignorance when confronted about it—as Mother Jones documented in multiple investigations since last summer. Other such “mistakes” include:

Trump failing to disavow support from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when asked about it repeatedly on CNN, and then blaming a “bad earpiece.”
Trump appointing a white nationalist leader as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and then blaming a “database error” for the move.
Trump tweeting an image of himself superimposed over a picture of WWII-era Waffen-SS soldiers, and then blaming a mistake by an intern.
Gen. Michael Flynn sharing a #NeverHillary tweet that said, “Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore,” and then claiming it was a mistake.

Those are just the cases in which Trump and his backers have backpedaled. There are many other similar instances in which they haven’t even bothered to explain or apologize:

Trump twice retweeting @WhiteGenocideTM
Trump retweeting @EustaceFash, whose header image at the time also included the term “White Genocide.”
Trump tweeting an image of himself as Pepe the frog
Trump tweeting an image of “Crooked Hillary” superimposed over a pile of cash and the Star of David
Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous Skittles tweet
Trump tweeting blatantly false and racially inflammatory crime statistics

The most charitable interpretation of this behavior is ineptitude. Regardless, the result is clear: According to one study of 10,000 Twitter accounts that followed Trump, more than a third also followed the account of at least one prominent booster of white nationalism—a movement now widely regarded as having a direct line into the Oval Office.

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Kellyanne Conway’s White Nationalist Retweet Is No Mistake

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Never Has It Been Easier to Get Secret Cash to a President

Mother Jones

On a recent Tuesday evening, a donor, lobbyist, or foreign diplomat hoping to make inroads with President Donald Trump and his retinue of family members and allies needed only to show up to the lobby bar of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Seated together on couches near the bar were Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son and now the co-head of the Trump Organization; Brad Parscale, the digital guru for Trump’s presidential campaign who is now running an outside group created to bolster Trump and his agenda; and Nick Ayers, a political consultant and former aide to Vice President Mike Pence who is also working for Trump’s new outside group. With security guards stationed nearby, the men held court, posed for photos with guests, and then headed to the White House to attend the announcement ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

No president in American history has entered office as conflict-ridden as Trump. It’s almost impossible to keep track of all the ways someone seeking to influence him and his administration could do so without a trace. A donation made through a shell corporation to Trump’s inaugural committee. An undisclosed donation to America First Policies, the new outside group run by Ayers, Parscale, and other ex-Trump aides. A monthly retainer to Avenue Strategies, the consulting firm launched by former Trump aides Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett and conveniently located one block from the White House.

But there is a simpler and more direct way to put money in the pocket of the new president and his family: spend money at a Trump hotel or resort. Lots of money. In many ways, the president’s properties—which he refuses to divest or separate himself from in any serious way—serve as ideal conduits for directly influencing and even bribing the Trump administration.

Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University and an expert on federal contracting, says an individual, corporation, or foreign government could pay for rooms at Trump hotels, spend lavishly at hotel restaurants, and drop sizeable sums on ballrooms and other event spaces to direct money to the Trump family in the hopes of acquiring influence. “It’s a win-win,” Schooner says. “If you use the space, you’re entertaining people on the president’s property, and if you don’t, you’ve basically just funneled the money to the president and the president’s family.”

At this point, Schooner added, there is no way for anyone outside the Trump Organization and the Trump family to know if any corporations, lobbyists, advocacy groups, businesspeople, foreign governments, or overseas leaders spend money at Trump properties. (Ditto arms traders, sleazy financiers, or any other bad actors.) Noting the recent decision by Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to double its initiation fee, Schooner said, “They’re willing to raise the price on anything. What would be an outrageous payment for a social event at a Trump property? $100,000? $200,000? $300,000? And the public will never find out about it.” In other words, anyone who wanted the Trumps’ attention and goodwill could rent out space at a Trump hotel or resort for an exorbitant amount—whether they actually used it for a function or not.

Foreign dignitaries have already flocked to Trump’s Washington hotel. A week after the election, nearly 100 foreign diplomats partied at one of the hotel’s ballroom spaces, dubbed the Lincoln Library. Kuwait moved its annual National Day party from the Four Seasons to Trump’s DC hotel. As one Asian diplomat told the Washington Post in November, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’? Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?'”

A DC-based lobbyist, who asked for anonymity to speak openly about Trump and his properties, told me that he hadn’t personally felt pressure to patronize Trump’s hotel, but “reading between the lines isn’t that tough here.” He went on, “There is a reason that the senior staff hang out in the lobby bar at the hotel. They are seeing who spends time and money there and who books large parties there and large blocks of rooms for delegations.” The lobbyist said he wouldn’t be surprised to see major trade associations such as the US Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Broadcasters use the hotel to put up visiting colleagues and affiliates. “Point is,” the lobbyist said, “someone is paying attention to the person who orders the $1,000 bottle of wine.”

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) recently sent a letter to Trump requesting information from Mar-a-Lago, the Trump-owned private club in South Florida that will serve as the president’s winter White House. Whitehouse and Udall asked Trump to make public Mar-a-Lago’s private membership list and the names of members and visitors to the club when Trump is there, and to explain how Trump plans to screen members and guests for ties to foreign governments that may seek to influence the president. “Now that you are president, you have an obligation to dispel any suspicions that access to you can be purchased by a private club membership fee,” the senators wrote. (The White House and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

Unlike presidents before him, Trump has refused to divest from his international business holdings, over the objections of myriad ethics experts. Indeed, the Trump Organization is capitalizing on the soaring profile of its founder. Mar-a-Lago upped its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000. A Trump Organization executive also suggested that the company plans to expand its hotel offerings, eyeing 26 US metropolitan areas for new projects. (The company currently has properties in five major markets.) At Trump’s January 11 press conference, a lawyer for Trump said the new president would step down from management roles at the Trump Organization and put his assets into a trust controlled by his sons but would not give up his ownership stake. Trump’s lawyer also said Trump would donate the profits—not revenue—from his hotels derived from foreign government sources to the US Treasury, but at present there is no method for confirming that Trump is in fact complying with the agreement.

Outside ethics experts say Trump’s conflicts-of-interest plan does almost nothing to clear up problems that could arise during his presidency. Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, called the plan “meaningless.” Norm Eisen, who served as an ethics attorney under President Obama, told Mother Jones that Trump’s plan “falls short in every respect.”

Trump still stands to benefit financially from the properties he owns. He recently transferred ownership stake in his Washington hotel into a trust that exists solely “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump,” according to a regulatory filing obtained by ProPublica. So money spent at the Trump International Hotel in Washington still winds up in his own coffers. It doesn’t have to create a profit for Trump to benefit: Hotel revenue can cover overhead and debt payments, such as Trump’s $170 million loan from Deutsche Bank for his DC hotel.

Trump said at his January 11 press conference that he would not discuss business with his sons, but ethics experts say there is no way to police this. Donald Jr. and Eric appear to enjoy ample access to their father, to the White House, and to policymakers in and around the administration. On inauguration weekend, the brothers hobnobbed with their father’s foreign business partners at inaugural parties. The brothers’ social-media accounts show them sitting front row for Gorsuch’s announcement ceremony in the West Wing and later chatting one-on-one with Gorsuch while Pence stood awkwardly behind Donald Jr.

So how much could someone trying to gain goodwill with Trump potentially spend at one of his hotels? Going by the hotel’s advertised rate of $481 a night, a 20-room reservation for 10 days—whether used or not—adds up to $96,400. The hotel’s suites range in price from $1,025 a night (the Ivanka suite) to $25,000 a night (the Trump Townhouse).

The Trump administration has gone out of its way to promote Trump’s Washington hotel. Sean Spicer, then the incoming White House press secretary, plugged the hotel during a press briefing on the day before Trump’s swearing-in. “It’s an absolutely stunning hotel,” Spicer told reporters. “I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by.” During the official inaugural parade, Trump stopped his motorcade near the hotel, exited his vehicle, and began walking along Pennsylvania Avenue, where he and his family waved to fans. Since Trump took office, his Washington hotel has become a hub and gathering spot for Trump supporters, acolytes, and—yes—family members.

Larry Noble, the general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a good-government group that has highlighted Trump’s many conflicts of interest, says Trump could have easily resolved any conflicts stemming from the Washington hotel and all the other properties he owns or financially benefits from by fully divesting his assets. “The hotel is a shining example of his conflicts of interest and his arrogance about his conflicts of interest,” Noble says. “There’s only one answer: He should’ve divested himself and sold the hotel.”

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Never Has It Been Easier to Get Secret Cash to a President

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Sean Spicer Imagines Coretta Scott King Would Change Her Mind About Jeff Sessions

Mother Jones

Amid mounting outrage over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as she read Coretta Scott King’s 1968 letter opposing the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ to the federal bench, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday said he “respectfully disagreed” with the assessment by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow that Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, was a threat to civil rights.

“Like the late Arlen Specter,” Spicer said, “I can only hope that if she was still with us today, that after getting to know him and to see his record and his commitment to voting and civil rights,” she would have agreed with Specter when he said he regretted his vote to kill Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship decades before.

“I would hope that if she was still with us today,” Spicer continued, “she would share that sentiment.”

The remarks were swiftly mocked on social media, with many slamming Spicer for appearing to recast King’s views on civil rights and Sessions’ controversial record on the issue.

Warren was forced to stop reading from King’s letter, in which she accused Sessions of using his office to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” Tuesday night after McConnell invoked an arcane rule prohibiting senators from impugning one another. The incident sparked widespread protest among Democrats, who in turn used it as further evidence against President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general.

Spicer’s statement on King came shortly after he angrily defended the president’s anti-terror raid in Yemen in January in which civilians and a Navy SEAL were killed. He suggested anyone who questioned the success of the mission was doing a “disservice” to the Navy SEAL killed in the mission.

When asked if his comments included Sen. John McCain, who previously described the raid as a “failure,” Spicer replied that the message was for “anybody.”

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Sean Spicer Imagines Coretta Scott King Would Change Her Mind About Jeff Sessions

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Yet Again, Republicans Demonstrate the Mean-Spiritedness at the Dark Heart of Their Party

Mother Jones

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In situations where most people get angry, I mostly get depressed. Today I feel like hiding under a rock.

Yesterday President Trump made good on his campaign promise to halt immigration of Muslims into the United States “until we know what’s going on.” An explicit ban on Muslims would be illegal, of course, even considering the president’s broad authority over immigration, so instead he picked seven Muslim countries and banned their citizens from entering the US for 90 days—by which time, presumably, Trump will have figured out what’s going on. He also banned refugees from everywhere for 120 days. The result has been rampant chaos and pointless suffering.

A friend writes: “I’m amazed at how badly Trump, et al. have been handling the executive orders they’ve been churning out. Don’t they know the orders are legal documents, not corporate memos?” That’s a good question. As near as I can tell, Trump is treating his executive orders the same way he treats his tweets: they’re designed as communiques to his fans, and that’s about it. The actual consequences hardly matter.

What else can you make of this latest bumbling fiasco? Consider:

Not a single Muslim extremist from any of the seven designated countries has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil.

But residents of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and other US “allies” are exempt, even though their citizens have committed acts of terrorism here. By coincidence, these are also countries where Trump has commercial interests.

The executive order mis-cites the relevant immigration statute. Ed Whelan wonders if this means the Office of Legal Counsel is out of the loop:

The refugee ban is heartbreaking, especially for folks who have sold everything and were literally in the airport waiting to board a plane when they were turned back. But the order also applies to green card holders. These are legal residents. If they were overseas at the time the ban went into effect, they can’t return home.

There’s no excuse for this. The EO could have exempted green card holders. At the very least, it could have gone into effect for them after a warning period. But nobody in the White House gave a damn. So now airports are jammed with legal residents who are trying to return home to their families but are being denied entry.

The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are allowed to issue exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Does this mean either of them can, or that both have to sign off? Because there is no Secretary of State right now.

Republicans are mostly too callous, or too craven, to speak up about this debacle. I don’t need to bother checking to see what Breitbart and Ann Coulter think. I’m sure they’re thrilled. But even mainstream conservatives are largely unwilling to speak up about this. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been unable to rouse itself so far to express an opinion. Ditto for the Weekly Standard. I thought the same was true of National Review, but no: they roused themselves to mostly approve of what Trump is doing. Paul Ryan, who once thought this kind of thing was terrible, is also on board. So is Mitch McConnell. And Mike Lee. And most of the rest of the GOP caucus. This is how we got Trump in the first place. Is it really worth it just for another tax cut?

Airports are now flooded with stranded travelers. People who have lived in the US for years are unable to return to their homes. Nobody knows if any exceptions will be forthcoming from our Secretaries of State or Homeland Security. It’s chaos everywhere.

And for no reason. Refugees are already extremely tightly vetted. Visas are tightly vetted too from the countries on Trump’s list. The green-card chaos could have easily been avoided if anyone had cared enough to think through the executive order before issuing it. Or if Trump had thought that any high-ranking Republicans would make him pay a price for being so ham-handed.

But they didn’t. As always, Republicans are ruled by a mean-spiritedness that’s just plain nauseating. They’re perfectly willing to go along with a plan that will cause tremendous hardship for other people even though they know perfectly well it will do nothing for national security. Its only real purpose is to send a message to a GOP base eager for a show of bravado against the rest of the world. Is that worth a bit of senseless cruelty aimed at defenseless foreigners? Of course it is. Hell, that’s the whole point. And the suffering this causes? As usual, they just don’t give a damn.

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Yet Again, Republicans Demonstrate the Mean-Spiritedness at the Dark Heart of Their Party

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Your Day-One Guide to President Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump takes office today as the most conflicted and ethically problematic president in the nation’s history. He refuses to divest from his global business holdings. His company continues to make foreign deals even after he promised to halt them. He owes hundreds of millions of dollars to domestic and overseas banks and other financial institutions. And Trump has yet to release his tax returns, making it impossible to know the full extent of his business dealings, liabilities, and other potential conflicts in the US and around the world.

On the first day of Trump’s presidency, here is a guide to the conflicts and ethical questions that will dog him from the moment he steps foot in the White House.

Trump’s Other Home on Pennsylvania Avenue

There was a joke during the presidential campaign: Win or lose, Trump would still have a presence on DC’s iconic Pennsylvania Avenue. The Trump International Hotel opened last year in the historic Old Post Office Building four blocks from the White House, charging $850 a night for a room and $26 for a hamburger. Trump’s unexpected victory, however, presented a new problem for the incoming president: He will violate the Trump International’s lease the moment he takes office.

Trump’s lease with the General Services Administration—the landlord of the federal government—bans any elected official, including the president, from having a financial stake or gaining a financial benefit from the property. Congressional Democrats argue that Trump, under the terms of the lease, must legally divest himself from the 263-room hotel before taking office. If he chooses not to divest, Democrats say the GSA should evict Trump.

The conflicts here are many. Trump’s administration will oversee the GSA and handpick its leader, and the agency will in turn be tasked with negotiating with Trump Organization officials over rent, lease terms, and so on. GSA officials have hedged their comments about the fate of the hotel. The agency said in a statement in December that it “plans to coordinate with the president-elect’s team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building.” Trump’s transition team stayed mum about the lease controversy while Trump himself has refused to cut ties with the hotel. The Trump International, meanwhile, has courted foreign dignitaries, raising questions about whether the new administration was pushing foreign governments to patronize the hotel. This week, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer gave a shout-out to the hotel: “It’s a stunning hotel. I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by.”

The Foreign Connection

The Emoluments Clause was an obscure provision of the US Constitution—until Trump arrived on the scene. The clause prohibits any government official from receiving money, gifts, and anything else of value from a foreign government. In the view of many constitutional experts, Trump stands in violation of the Emoluments Clause from the first day of his presidency. “Applied to Mr. Trump’s diverse dealings, the text and purpose of the Emoluments Clause speak as one: this cannot be allowed,” wrote Norm Eisen, a former chief ethics lawyer under President Obama, and Richard Painter, a former chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.

A foreign state-owned bank rents space in a Trump-owned building. Trump has loans via a partnership with the Bank of China. Foreign diplomats and governments are paying to stay at the Trump International Hotel in DC, which is largely owned by Trump and run by his company. And then there are the many Trump-owned and -branded hotels across the globe—deals that in some cases involve partnerships with questionable characters. (A project in Azerbaijan with the son of the country’s transportation minister is one glaring example.) All of these sources of money—and many more—run afoul of the Emoluments Clause, according to Eisen and Painter.

Trump has responded to questions about his conflicts with flat denials. “The law is totally on my side,” he said in late November, “meaning the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Ethics experts say this isn’t true. In an analysis for the Brookings Institution, Eisen and Painter studied legal and historical precedent and came to the conclusion that evidence “compellingly” supports “the longstanding and near-unanimous consensus among lawyers and legal scholars that the Emoluments Clause applies in full to the President.”

At a press conference earlier this month, Trump said he was turning control of his company over to his sons and declared that the Trump Organization would pursue no new international business during his presidency. He also said the company would terminate many foreign projects (like the Azerbaijani project, which has long been dormant anyway) that the Trump Organization had in development. But, just this week, one of his Scottish golf courses announced plans to expand and Trump projects in Indonesia appear to be moving forward. While Trump bragged at the press conference about turning down a deal with Dubai-based property development company DAMAC, he did not address the fact that he has an ongoing licensing deal with company worth between $2 million and $10 million a year.

It’s Not What You Own—It’s What You Owe

Trump, as Mother Jones has reported, will enter the White House as the most indebted president in history. And the new president’s debtors, which include foreign financial institutions, raise a whole slew of questions.

According to Trump’s financial disclosure forms, his largest single lender is Deutsche Bank, which he owes $364 million. The German bank and US law enforcement officials have sparred in recent years, with the bank agreeing to pay a $7.2 billion fine for its role in the 2008 mortgage crisis. The Justice Department has an ongoing investigation into the bank for allegedly helping to funnel money out of Russia.

The fact that Trump will enter office with his biggest lender under investigation by his administration is one of the most obvious conflicts his debts pose. But there are other ethical issues: What happens if one of his lenders wants to renegotiate the loan’s terms? How can the public be sure that the bank isn’t using its leverage to curry favor or that Trump isn’t using his position to seek special treatment? Although Trump has said he is separating himself from the daily operations of his company, he has personally guaranteed a number of his loans. Will Trump recuse himself if a decision directly involving one of his lenders lands on his desk?

Trust Isn’t Blind

During his press conference earlier this month, Trump laid out his plan to insulate himself from conflicts of interest: He would place all of his assets in a trust controlled by his sons, who would not discuss any of the Trump Organization’s business dealings with him. An “independent ethics adviser” would vet any new Trump Organization deals. And Trump would donate any hotel profits derived from foreign governments to the US Treasury.

Ethics experts were aghast. They had been nearly unanimous in their advice that Trump place his assets in a blind trust run by an independent trustee who oversees the assets and can sell off those that pose a conflict. Trump’s plan was so far outside the boundaries of what past presidents and cabinet members typically do that the usually press-shy director of the Office of Government Ethics publicly blasted the proposal. Trump’s transition team did not even consult with the OGE, according to Walter Shaub, the office’s director. “We would have told them that this arrangement fails to meet the statutory requirements,” he said.

For Trump, however, the issue appears to be settled—even if that means entering the White House as the most conflict-ridden President in US history.

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Your Day-One Guide to President Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

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