Sessions, Oprah, Obama but not the Russians in Trump’s On-Going Twitter War

On February 20, 2018, DNC deputy communications director Adrienne Watson responded to a recent series of tweets by President Trump.  Last week’s Russian election meddling indictments renewed the debate about whether Obama did enough to counter Russian interference when he was in office.

After continued criticism about how he is handling Russia’s meddling in the 2016 Election, President Trump took to Twitter. Watson details Trump’s tweets from his attacks on Oprah, down to the Pennsylvania redistricting map. Trump’s tweets from last week and even today, included no mention of prevention of future Russian attacks on US elections, he did not condemn the Kremlin’s attack of the 2016-Presidential and he adamantly denies that the Mueller investigation will or has uncovered any unsavory connections between him and the Russians.

Trump Tweet Fox News Says Russia Has not dirt on Trump

Why Doesn’t Sessions Go After Obama for the Russian Meddling?

On February 21st Trump lashed out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions,  asking why he isn’t investigating the Obama-administration for being weak in the face of Russian aggression.

Trump Tweet why didnt Sessions go after Obama

Pressuring Sessions to investigate Obama’s knowledge of Russian involvement is somewhat awkward because Session’s involvement with Russian government officials was investigated by the Department of Justice in March 2017.  Sessions stated during his confirmation hearing in January 2017, that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” It was later determined by the Justice Department that he met with Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak twice in the preceding 12 months.

Sessions clarified the apparent disharmony between his sworn confirmation testimony and the two meetings with the Russian ambassador by stating that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”

The President seemed to forget that Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation in June 2017.  “I recused myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing on my part during the campaign,” Sessions stated. “But because a Department of Justice regulation, 28 CFR 45.2, required it.”

What did the Obama Administration Know and When?

From the Mueller indictment, we now know that in 2015 the Russians purchased advertisements on social-media sites designed to influence public opinion, but it remains unclear whether the F.B.I. or any other intelligence agencies were aware of the purchases and other election interferences in real time.

By the summer of 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies had collected a “critical mass” of data about Russian efforts to intervene in the election. This prompted John Brennan, the then director of the C.I.A., to brief Obama and other top advisers in August about the threat.  But President Obama and his advisors didn’t learn of the extent of the Russian inference, including the use of fake personas online, or that the Russians were exploiting Facebook and other social-media sites until after the 2016 elections former administration officials said. “We knew some things, but didn’t have all the pieces,” a senior official said, referring to Obama’s final weeks in office.

Who is Tougher on Russia?  It Depends on Who You Ask.

From the beginning, President Trump has vehemently denied that his campaign and administration had any knowledge of Russian meddling in the election.  As detailed in his tweets, he also continues to state that the current administration has been “tougher on Russia than Obama.”

Trump Tweet Im tougher on Russia than Obama

Although the President claims the Obama administration didn’t take proper actions against Russia, Obama did make strides towards imposing sanctions against Russia, with a major retaliatory measures coming after the 2016 Election, when the Obama Administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats accused of interfering  with the Presidential Election, sanctioning three companies and also closing two Russian diplomatic offices in the United States.

Trump has yet to impose sanctions against the Russians, after the overwhelming passage of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act by Congress last year. The sanctions were to take effect on January 29th.  The law gives the administration the power to target powerful Russian elites and companies and countries that do business with blacklisted Russian military and intelligence entities.  The administration also failed to meet a deadline to identify Russian entities and individuals which would be added to a sanctions list. Instead, the Administration published a list of 96 known prominent Russian Oligarchs, as noted on Twitter by Tom ParfittMoscow Correspondent at The London Times.

Parfitt Tweet Russians added to list all from Forbes

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said February 14 that the Trump administration is “actively working” on imposing sanctions on Russia over its interference in the 2016 US election.  And on February 20th, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that Donald Trump “has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and be tough on Russia.” We’ll have to see what’s coming and maybe we’ll find out exactly what Trump has done to put pressure on Russia, monitor Twitter.

 

Copyright ©2018 National Law Forum, LLC
This post was written by Alessandra de Faria and Jennifer Schaller of the National Law Forum.
Read more coverage of Trump’s tweets and other political news at the Election page of the National Law Review.

Mueller Indictment: Russians Manipulated Social Media, Advertising and Political Rallies to Impact 2016 Election

Robert Mueller’s office released 37 page  indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian organizations for interference in the 2016 Presidential election.  According to Mueller’s office, a Russian organization based in St. Petersburg known as the Internet Research Agency used fake American social media profiles sometimes posing as political activists to wage “information warfare,” interfering with and manipulating the US election process.

According to today’s indictment, these activities began as early as 2014, with certain defendants traveling to the United States and obtaining VPN infrastructure, to obscure the origins of their activities so various accounts would appear to be based within the United States.  Alleged activities included purchasing online advertisements–and stealing identities to do so.  Moving offline the defendants and their co-conspirators solicited individuals to disparage or promote candidates, including hiring a woman to wear a costume portraying Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform at various political events, all while hiding their Russian identities.

These activities were done without proper regulatory disclosure and without registering as foreign entities.  Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who announced the indictment stated: “The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

DNC Chair Tom Perez released a statement, saying, “This indictment gives us a chilling look at just how sophisticated, well-funded and wide-ranging this attack on our democracy really was. It should send chills up the spine of every American.”   Perez points to the indictment as proof that the 2016 election was marred by Russian interference; including hacking into the DNC by Russian operatives as well as hacking into voter registration systems across the country, along with the now ubiquitous understanding of the Russian presence on social media and their attempts to foster disagreement and manufacture intense contention among already disagreeing Americans online.

Additionally, Perez points to Trump’s failure to act on the information presented by Mueller, referencing Trump’s attempts to diminish and discredit the Mueller investigation and his failure to direct intelligence officials to take action to prevent future attacks.   Perez:

“President Trump continues to deny these facts.  And Republican in Congress continues to spread falsehoods to tarnish the very investigation that is beginning to hold Russia accountable for its actions in 2016. If the president won’t uphold the oath he took to protect our nation’s security, he has no place in the Oval Office. And if Republican leaders in Congress can’t put the interests of our democracy before politics, they have no place in Congress.”

On the other side of the aisle, Kayleigh McEnany, an RNC spokesperson read the indictment to indicate that Russian interference was two-sided, with President-elect Trump also in the Russian cross-hairs.  She points specifically to rallies funded by Russian Roubles on November 12th and 19th of 2016, in the days following the election.   In an appearance on Fox News, she indicated that it was the Democrats who had deceived the country by emphasizing the Russian election interference.  She said, “Democrats deceived this country…and they were caught today.”

In a tweet today, president Trump stated that there was a lack of allegations in today’s indictment of any impact on the 2016 presidential election and highlighted his campaign’s lack of involvement.

Trump Tweet  Russian Election Indictment

However, a holistic reading of the indictment supports claims that Russian interference did appear to impact the 2016 election. The indictment offers a timeline of the defendant’s conspiracy that had a clear purpose: “impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”

You can read the indictment here.

For more on Election Legal issues, check out our Legislative, Election, Lobbying, Campaign Finance and Voting Law News.

This post was written by Eilene Spear of The National Law Review/The National Law Forum LLC.

Do You Have To Be Old To Be A Veteran?

On Saturday, the country honored its veterans.  November 11 was originally designated as “Armistice Day” in recognition of the date on which fighting in the First World War ended.  It became a legal holiday in 1938 only a few years before the United States’ entry into the Second World War in 1941.  52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a).  Shortly after the end of the Korean War, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed November 11 as “Veterans Day” for the first time:

Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain. I also direct the appropriate officials of the Government to arrange for the display of the flag of the United States on all public buildings on Veterans Day.

Who qualifies as a “veteran” in California?  It turns out that California’s Military and Veterans Code has multiple, not entirely consistent definitions of the term (See Sections 890, 920, 940, 980, 987.003, 999, and 1010).

The term itself is derived from the Latin word veteres, meaning old.  The Romans, by and large, revered the customs and examples of their elders, especially those of the distant past.  For example, the great Roman lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote “maiores nostri, veteres illi, admodum antiqui, leges annales non habebant (our elders, those ancestors of absolute antiquity, had no laws governing the age [for holding public offices])”.  In M. Antonium Oratio Philippica Quinta [the Fifth Oration Against M. Antonius aka the “Fifth Philipic”] § 47.

This post was written by Keith Paul Bishop of Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP., © 2010-2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review  

Senate Confirms Lee Francis Cissna to lead USCIS

On Oct. 5, the U.S. Senate approved the nomination of Lee Francis Cissna to lead the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) on a bipartisan vote of 54-43. All Republican senators supported the nomination and were joined by Democrat Senators Donnelly (IN), Heitkamp (ND), Manchin (WV) and McCaskill (MO). Senators Cochran (R-MS), Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Heller (R-NV) did not vote.

 

This post was written by Robert Y. Maples of Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved, ©2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

President’s FY18 Budget Proposes Historic Cuts to EPA Funding and Staffing

On May 23, 2017, the White House unveiled the full version of President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018 entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”  As signaled in the President’s “skinny budget” released earlier this year, the proposed budget would fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $5.7 billion — a more than 30 percent decrease from the current funding of nearly eight billion.  EPA’s congressionally enacted budget has remained relatively flat since 2000, other than a significant boost in 2010 to $10.3 billion.  The proposed FY18 budget also calls for an EPA staffing level of 11,611 — a thirty year low.  The proposed decreased staffing level equates to a 20 percent reduction in the overall EPA workforce, which would eliminate approximately 3,000 employees.  A portion of the staff cuts would come from programs proposed for elimination, including the Center for Corporate Climate leadership, the Coalbed Methane Outreach group, and greenhouse gas reporting programs.  Some of the staff cuts may be accomplished by early retirement and lump sum voluntary separation payment incentives.  On June 1, 2017, EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn sent an e-mail to EPA employees providing preliminary details and next steps on early retirement and separation incentive offers.  Employees who accept offers will leave EPA by early September 2017.

Funding for state and tribal assistance grants (STAG) and other funds for state and regional initiatives is markedly decreased or zeroed out in the proposed budget, with cuts totaling $482 million, or 45 percent below the current enacted levels.  According to the Environmental Council of the States, which represents state departments of environment, STAG monies support approximately 27 percent of state departments of environment annual budgets.

In the area of federal enforcement, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance’s (OECA) budget would decrease by nearly 25 percent below current funding.  This decrease would reduce civil and criminal enforcement by 18 and 16.5 percent, respectively.  Funding for laboratory and forensics costs that support enforcement cases, including monitoring, would decrease by over 40 percent.  The corresponding reduction in enforcement efforts is likely to result in increased litigation from environmental advocates, particularly for matters governed by the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act which authorize citizen suits.

The budget requests $65 million for chemical risk review and reduction efforts under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), an increase of nearly $3.8 million from the current level.  EPA’s budget document notes that TSCA fee collections, set to begin in the second quarter of FY18, will fund approximately 53 full-time employees to support the chemical review process that were previously funded by federal appropriations. This small boost in funding may not be sufficient enough to support the implementation of “new TSCA,” however, and the implementation could still result in delays.

skinny budget donald trumpThe President’s budget provides $99.4 million in appropriated funding to support EPA’s pesticide registration review and registration program, including implementation.  This amount would decrease funding by $20.4 million from current enacted levels.  In addition to budget appropriations, EPA’s pesticide program is supported by Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) maintenance fees and Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) registration application fees.  These fees combined typically generate approximately $40-45 million in additional funding per year. Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of PRIA, which would increase application fees.  Together, however, the total amount of funds available to operate the pesticide program (appropriations and industry fees) have declined over the past years and present a threat to the pesticide program’s ability to meet application review deadlines.

EPA Administrator Pruitt’s Back-to-Basics agenda includes addressing hazardous waste clean-up of the sites that have remained on the Superfund National Priorities List for decades.  In spite of this priority action item, the proposed budget would fund the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account at $762 million, $330 million below the 2017 level.  Instead of relying on the Superfund account to finance remediation, EPA instead would use existing settlement funds to clean up hazardous waste sites.

EPA’s Office of Water’s overall funding would decrease by nearly 20 percent. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) funding levels would remain funded at current levels. The SRFs support states’ administration of their drinking water and surface water programs and related infrastructure projects.  Steep cuts to STAG grants, and zeroing out of the Section 319 Nonpoint Source program and regional initiatives like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay programs will be felt at the state level. The Section 319 program targets nonpoint source pollution, including runoff from agricultural working lands. States use 319 program funds to support watershed improvement projects and incentivize voluntary installation of best management practices on farms (e.g., grass waterways and buffers).

EPA’s FY18 Budget in Brief provides more details on proposed budget allocations and priorities.  The President’s budget is likely to face steep opposition in Congress, which has until September 30, 2017, to pass a budget for FY18, although this timeline will likely be extended through the use of continuing resolutions.  The House is slated to finish its work on appropriation bills before the July 4, 2017, holiday break, which should provide more insights on how much influence the President’s budget will have with appropriations leadership.

This post was contributed by the Government Regulations practice group at Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

Watchdog: ‘Reason To Believe’ Trump And Super PAC Violated Election Law

Donald Trump Campaign finance election lawA campaign finance watchdog said Wednesday that chief White House strategist Steve Bannon may have illegally benefited from spending by a pro-Trump super PAC while he led Trump’s presidential campaign.

The Campaign Legal Center believes Make America Number 1, a super PAC that backed Trump, may have improperly subsidized Bannon’s salary. In a letter to regulators on Wednesday, the Campaign Legal Center argued that details in Bannon’s recent financial disclosure give “reason to believe” the Trump campaign and the super PAC may have violated federal election rules.

While Trump initially criticized his Republican opponents for their close ties to super PACs and disavowed outside groups that sought to support his bid, his team embraced outside help during his general election race against Hillary Clinton and pushed the boundaries of federal election rules as much as any other 2016 candidate, testing regulations meant to ensure super PACs operate independently from campaigns.

Bannon’s disclosure, filed March 31, confirmed his financial connection to Glittering Steel, a film production company that was involved with Bannon’s “Clinton Cash” documentary about the Clinton family and “Torchbearer,” which starred Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson.

Make America Number 1 paid the film production company nearly $1 million during the 2016 election cycle, with payments starting in July 2015 and continuing after Bannon became the Trump campaign’s CEO. The Trump campaign never paid Bannon, who previously was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a right-wing news site.

The filing says Bannon resigned from Glittering Steel and stopped receiving monthly consulting payments from the company in August 2016, when he joined the Trump campaign. But the form indicates Bannon kept an ownership interest in Glittering Steel, worth at least $100,000. Bannon’s report says he’s trying to sell his stake in the company.

“As a result, as Bannon worked for the Trump campaign without pay, he continued to benefit, directly or indirectly, from the estimated $267,500 in payments that Make America Number 1 made to Glittering Steel LLC after or around his officially joining the campaign,” wrote the Campaign Legal Center’s general counsel, Larry Noble.

The Campaign Legal Center first filed its complaint with the Federal Election Commission in October. It’s unclear if the agency has decided to investigate, as the FEC doesn’t disclose investigations until they’re completed. Its commissioners have frequently deadlocked on whether to pursue apparent election law violations.

Overall, the FEC has done little to ensure that super PACs remain independent from candidates in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed companies and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.

Super PACs and politically active nonprofits spent almost $1.5 billion during the last election cycle, with much of the money coming from ultra-wealthy individuals like billionaire Robert Mercer, the conservative hedge fund executive who financed Make America Number 1. His daughter, Rebekah, led the super PAC, which originally backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primary race.

The Mercers pressed Trump to hire Bannon to lead his campaign, according to the Washington Post. Over the years, the Mercer family has funded Breitbart News, as well as the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative investigative nonprofit led by Bannon. Bannon and the Mercers founded Glittering Steel together, the Post reported.

The Mercers are also major investors in Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for both Make America Number 1 and the Trump campaign. Bannon received monthly consulting payments from Cambridge Analytica and served on its board. Though Bannon’s financial disclosure says he resigned from the firm when he started working for Trump, he still has a stake in the company, worth over $1 million, that he’s planning to sell.

The Campaign Legal Center said that there’s reason to question whether Bannon did in fact resign from Glittering Steel and Cambridge Analytica in August.

Bannon’s financial disclosure says he resigned from Breitbart News then, but Breitbart’s CEO Larry Solov recently told the Senate Press Gallery that Bannon resigned from Breitbart in November, days after Trump’s victory.

The relationship between Bannon and Breitbart News, which gave Trump favorable coverage throughout the campaign, has generated controversy in recent weeks. Bannon has reportedly maintained contact with Breitbart editors about the site’s coverage. That news prompted a liberal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to request an investigation into whether Bannon has violated his White House ethics pledge.

News reports suggested last week that there’s a growing rivalry between Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, and that Bannon could be on his way out the door, after Trump removed Bannon from a position on his National Security Council.

Trump did little to quiet talk of a shake-up on Tuesday when the New York Post asked him if he still has confidence in Bannon. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” he said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”

*This article was produced by MapLight in partnership with Fast Company.

ARTICLE BY MapLight

© Copyright MapLight

Trump Administration Executive Order on Ethics Breaks New Ground

President Trump signed an executive order on ethics this weekend that is similar in key respects to the Obama Administration’s executive order governing ethical conduct by presidential appointees. But in one key respect it is significantly broader in scope than the previous Obama executive order. The Trump executive order incorporates the concept of “ lobbying activities, ” a defined term that it imports from the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Presidential appointees are required to agree that they will not engage in “lobbying activities” with respect to their agency for five years after the end of their term of office. Lobbying activities is a broad and amorphous term that covers not just actual lobbying contacts that may trigger lobbyist registration but also behind-the-scenes strategic advice and other work related to the lobbying contacts of others. In other words, whereas the restrictions in the Obama executive order applied to individuals who engaged in activities requiring lobbyist registration, the Trump executive order reaches even activity by non-registered lobbyists. This closes one of the major loopholes that President Obama had included in his administration’s executive order on ethics.

The Trump executive order also bars appointees from engaging in “lobbying activities” with respect to any covered executive branch official or non-career Senior Executive Service appointee for the remainder of the Administration.  This provision applies not just to the appointee’s former agency but to the entire executive branch. And again, because it applies to “lobbying activities,” as that term is defined in the LDA, it applies to behind-the-scenes strategic advice that supports someone else’s lobbying contacts.

Incorporating the term “lobbying activities” will have very significant consequences for Trump administration appointees, subjecting them to much broader post-employment restrictions than was so for Obama administration appointees. It would be difficult for Trump appointees who sign the pledge to pursue employment as strategic advisors, much less lobbyists, for a period of time after leaving the administration.

The change in language is quite subtle, probably understood only by Lobbying Disclosure Act aficionados at this point. But it is likely to draw considerable attention as appointees begin to focus on the consequences of signing the pledge.

© 2017 Covington & Burling LLP