Tag Archives: secretary

The Department of Defense Is Investigating Michael Flynn

Mother Jones

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The Defense Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation to determine whether Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, accepted payments from a foreign government without permission, according to documents released Thursday by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

“These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, said in a statement. “Our next step is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation. I thank the Department of Defense for providing us with unclassified versions of these documents.” Earlier this week, Cummings blasted the White House for refusing to provide his committee with documents related to whether Flynn disclosed his foreign payments when he reapplied for a security clearance last year.

Prior to working for Trump, Flynn had led the Defense Intelligence Agency under former President Barack Obama. Flynn was pushed out of that job in 2014 and the DIA explicitly told Flynn that he could not to accept any compensation from a foreign state without prior permission from the federal government. Flynn, however, took $45,000 in speaking fees from television network RT (formerly know as Russia today), which U.S. intelligence officials describe as a Russian propaganda outlet.

Flynn claims the DIA was briefed on the payment, but the information released by Cummings shows that the agency cannot find any documentation “referring or relating” to his “receipt of money from a foreign source.” There’s also another relationship that Cumming says is alarming and may not have been properly disclosed: Flynn’s company received $530,000 from a firm owned by a Turkish businessman with close ties to the government. Flynn’s lawyer wrote that the business relationship “could be construed to have principally benefited the republic of Turkey,” and Flynn filed belated paperwork identifying his work as a foreign agent after losing his post in the Trump administration.

During Thursday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer blamed the Obama administration when he was asked about the thoroughness of Flynn’s vetting by Trump’s transition team. “There’s an issue…that the Department of Defense Inspector General is looking into,” Spicer said. “We welcome that, but all of that clearance was made by the Obama administration and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took.”

Earlier this week, Cummings and House oversight committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) held a joint press conference, during which they revealed that Flynn may have broken the law by not disclosing the payment from RT when he reapplied for a security clearance last year.

But Republicans on the oversight committee are furious about Cummings’ decision to make the documents public. “Though we’ve walked hand-in-hand with the Democrats during this investigation, this morning they broke with long-standing protocol and decided to release these documents without consulting us,” a spokeswoman for Chaffetz said on CNN.

Democrats say they’ve been working with the Pentagon to release unclassified versions of the documents to the public. A spokeswoman for Cummings said Republicans on the committee were informed the documents would be released this morning. “I honestly don’t understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn,” Cummings said at a press conference today following the release of the documents. “There is a paper trail that the White House does not want our committee to follow it.”

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The Department of Defense Is Investigating Michael Flynn

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4 Ways Trump’s Tax Plan Will Make the Trumps Even Richer

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump revealed an outline of his big tax reform plan on Wednesday. It’s light on specifics and even lighter on details about how the administration might pay for what it describes as the “biggest tax cut” in US history. But one thing is perfectly clear: Trump and his family could save billions of dollars. Here are four ways Trump’s tax proposals would help people named Trump.

1. Eliminating the Estate Tax

The estate tax, which applies to wealth that deceased people pass on to their heirs, only affects the richest of the richest—roughly 0.2 percent of Americans. Individuals worth at least $5.45 million (or married couples worth at least $10.9 million) will owe estate taxes after their deaths. Currently, assets in excess of this $5.45 million exemption are taxed at 40 percent. President Donald Trump claims to be worth $10 billion, so his heirs could save billions if the estate tax disappears.

2. Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax

The alternative minimum tax requires certain taxpayers to calculate how much tax they owe twice—once using the regular income tax rules and again under AMT rules. Originally, the AMT was structured to prevent wealthy people from abusing the system by avoiding paying their fair share of taxes. We don’t know much about Trump’s taxes, but his 2005 returns, which were obtained by MSNBC, indicate the he earned $153 million that year. Without the AMT, Trump apparently would have paid just $7 million in taxes, according to the New York Times—a tax rate less than 5 percent. But the AMT forced him to pony up an additional $31 million that year, raising his tax rate to about 25 percent. Asked at a Wednesday press briefing how eliminating the AMT would impact Trump’s tax liability, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin dodged the question and abruptly ended the briefing.

3. Slashing Tax Rates for Pass-Through Corporations

Many businesses are structured as pass-through companies, meaning that rather than filing taxes as corporations, they “pay taxes through the personal income tax code,” as the Times explains. Trump wants to cut the rate for pass-throughs (as well as for corporations) to just 15 percent, which will certainly enrich anyone named Trump. Since the Trump Organization is a collection of pass-throughs, the organization itself isn’t subject to income tax. Instead, the owners are taxed individually. So Trump and his children would only have to pay 15 percent on their earnings from the family organization in taxes, much lower than the current top rate of 39.6 percent.

4. Lowering the Individual Income Tax Rate

Trump wants to eliminate several tax brackets and lower the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. Under the new plan, there will be three tax brackets: 10 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent. That could be a huge giveaway to the Trumps and other wealthy Americans who make millions of dollars each year.

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4 Ways Trump’s Tax Plan Will Make the Trumps Even Richer

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New York Times Updates Its 2015 Hillary Clinton FBI Investigation Story

Mother Jones

In July 2015 the New York Times reported that the Justice Department had opened a “criminal inquiry” into whether “Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information.” This was apparently a mistake, and the article was quickly rewritten to say only that DOJ had opened an “investigation” into whether sensitive information had been mishandled “in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state.” A few days later the Times’ public editor wrote a scathing summary of the paper’s scoop:

Aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online….From Thursday night to Sunday morning — when a final correction appeared in print — the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections….Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way — in small notices on Page A2. But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle — they ripple through the entire news system.

So it was, to put it mildly, a mess….“We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong,” editor Matt Purdy told me. “That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

A few days later I wrote about this too, suggesting that the Times owed us a better explanation of what happened. This weekend they went some of the way there in an aside buried in their big story about James Comey, co-authored by two of the same reporters who wrote the original piece. Here’s what they say:

On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named “Midyear,” into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information….There was controversy almost immediately. Responding to questions from The Times, the Justice Department confirmed that it had received a criminal referral — the first step toward a criminal investigation — over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information.

But the next morning, the department revised its statement. “The department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information,” the new statement read. “It is not a criminal referral.”

At the F.B.I., this was a distinction without a difference: Despite what officials said in public, agents had been alerted to mishandled classified information and in response, records show, had opened a full criminal investigation.

If this is correct, it was a criminal investigation, and the Times didn’t get it wrong. Rather, the Justice Department put up a smoke screen after news of the investigation had been leaked.

The second part of this remains fuzzy. Was the investigation specifically aimed at Hillary Clinton or was it only “in connection with” Hillary Clinton? It’s pretty obvious that Clinton was, in fact, the primary target of the investigation, but the FBI also investigated many others in her orbit. So I’m not sure how to score this.

Overall, though, despite what I wrote and what the Times itself wrote, it appears that this wasn’t an enormous screwup at all. There might have been a minor detail or two that was slightly wrong, but nothing central to the story itself.

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New York Times Updates Its 2015 Hillary Clinton FBI Investigation Story

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Trump’s Tax Cut Plan Will… Pay… For… Itself!

Mother Jones

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Back during Steve Mnuchin’s confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary, he said he was surprised that IRS staffing had gone down. This just reduces the number of audits they can perform, and therefore the amount of tax revenue they collect from high earners. Just think about it. If you increased hiring, it would pay for itself!

It was très adorbs. But Mnuchin is a quick learner, and he never brought that subject up again. Instead, he’s now talking about a much more acceptable kind of plan that pays for itself. The subject, of course, is tax cuts:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme — close to $2 trillion over 10 years — that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.

“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.

The Congressional Budget Office will have a very different take on this, and their take is the only one that matters. So why does Mnuchin even bother with this tired old charade? Maybe so that Donald Trump can yell and scream about how the CBO is rigged when they say that his tax plan is a deficit buster? Maybe to give congressional Republicans an excuse to fire Keith Hall and install a new CBO director who will give them whatever numbers they want?

Who knows? Maybe it’s just reflex. While we wait to find out, however, here’s a chart showing income tax receipts following the five most recent big changes to tax rates. You can decide for yourself if tax cuts pay for themselves or if tax increases tank the economy.

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Trump’s Tax Cut Plan Will… Pay… For… Itself!

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Want to fight for a future that doesn’t suck? Try Grist’s 21-Day Apathy Detox.

In a meeting reportedly scheduled for Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s team will debate whether to abandon the historic climate pact.

It might seem surprising that this is even up for debate. During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to “cancel” the agreement, which many consider necessary to keep the planet from overheating. But before making a move, it appears he’ll let his advisers fight it out.

Two members of Trump’s inner circle, Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, want the administration to stick with the agreement. Reports say the meeting will pit those two against Steve Bannon, the climate-denying former chief of Breitbart News, and Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, who want out. Reports say Kushner and Tillerson argue that remaining in the Paris accord gives the administration diplomatic leverage in other matters.

If the opening skit on Saturday Night Live is any sign, the outlook for Kushner’s faction is good.

Of course, President Trump’s moves to trash the environment since taking office suggest that, whatever happens, the administration has no plans to meet the the carbon-cutting pledge the U.S. made under the Paris Agreement.

UPDATE, 18 Apr 2017: The meeting has been postponed. No word yet on rescheduling, but the White House is expected to announce its decision on whether to stay in the agreement in late May.

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Want to fight for a future that doesn’t suck? Try Grist’s 21-Day Apathy Detox.

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