Trump and Republicans screw their base by promoting industrial robots, encouraging industry to replace people with robots

Trump’s formula for his unfortunate electoral victory in 2016 relied heavily on persuading voters in the so-called “heartland” that their economic decline was due not to any fault of corporate, late-stage capitalism, but that their jobs were being “stolen” by people with darker skin than themselves. By scapegoating Latinos in particular, and by employing familiar Republican stereotypes against African-Americans, Trump succeeded in eking out the win against a polarizing female Democratic candidate by mobilizing rural “working class’” Americans, mostly white and male, to vote for him out of a sense of race-based grievance.

In an article for the New York Times, Thomas Edsall shows how Trump and the Republicans almost immediately betrayed that rural voting base with their massive tax giveaway to corporations in 2017, by creating a tax incentive bonanza that encouraged and accelerated the pace of automation and the implementation of robots, now displacing thousands of relatively low-skilled workers in largely Trump-voting areas of the country. Another article by Eduardo Porter (also written this week for the Times) highlights the root causes behind the seemingly intractable problem of rural poverty in this country, and offers some clues on how Democrats might reclaim many of those rural voters without compromising values on issues of racial inclusion and equality.

If for nothing else, last month’s elections were remarkable for the fact that virtually no Republicans highlighted their singular legislative achievement, a massive tax giveaway to corporate America. One obvious reason for that is that few Americans making less than mid-six figure incomes saw any benefit to themselves from this tax cut. But the other reason was even more damning, if less noticeable: buried in this gargantuan payoff to reward the CEO donors in boardrooms who supported their campaigns, Republicans deliberately provided a huge incentive for corporations to eliminate the very jobs that their rural base needed to survive.

Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut has increased incentives to replace workers with robots, contradicting his campaign promise to restore well-paying manufacturing jobs in the nation’s heartland.

The Trump tax bill permits “U.S. corporations to expense their capital investment, through 2022. So, if a U.S. corporation buys a robot for $100 thousand, it can deduct the $100 thousand immediately to calculate its U.S. taxable income, rather than recover the $100 thousand over the life of the robot, as under prior law,” Steven M. Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a specialist in tax policy, wrote me by email.

The sheer appeal to corporations of an immediate tax deduction through investments in automation cannot be understated. The biggest liability corporations face is the high cost of paying their workers. But robots do not need health benefits and “sick time”—they need only to be programmed and oiled on occasion. They do not require wage increases, because they do not require any wages to begin with. So a tax incentive to automate was immediately hailed by corporate America as a win-win. And the impact has, for the most part, fallen upon those industries that typically employ the same type of non-college educated, usually male, workers (semi-skilled assemblers, machinists, material handlers, welders) who voted, in droves, for Donald Trump.

Edsall quotes Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at Columbia University:

The demographic group most hindered by the rise of automation, Sachs wrote, “has been the proverbial white male with less than a college degree and living in rural and semirural areas.”

Sachs believes that

[T]he next wave of job losses will be in basic business services (wholesale and retail trade, warehousing and transport) which will mean another hit for workers with relatively lower educational attainment.

Edsall also cites and quotes extensively a recent study out of MIT, which shows the Trump-voting swathes of the South and Midwest have a far higher concentration of robot-dependent industries than other areas of the country.

But the Trump tax cut did more than just drive the automated replacement of workers in Trump country—it encouraged industries to move out of the country altogether.

The 2017 Trump tax cut not only boosted incentives for corporations to replace workers with robots, it has also created incentives for American companies to move production overseas, even as it directed resources toward “opportunity zones” in what the Trump administration defines as “neglected and underserved communities” — incidentally providing a bounty of lucrative grants, guarantees and breaks for real estate developers.

Many in the Democratic Party, frankly, feel like these voters in Trump country are getting exactly what they deserve for supporting Trump and his cast of enabling charlatans in the GOP. And there is undoubtedly some appeal in schadenfreude, that sense of pleasure that people derive from others’ misfortune, particularly if it is viewed as deserved. But the racism that drove Trump voters to the polls didn’t grow in a vacuum. It was packaged, stoked and fed to them as an easy opportunity to assign blame to what they felt was a real problem: the plain fact that American business industries are not offering livable jobs in rural areas any more.

Fayette County, Pennsylvania is an example of Trumponomics at work. This is a county about an hour south of Pittsburgh, bordering West Virginia. The collapse of the steel industry turned the region into an economic basket case several decades ago. Today the people who live and work there are largely employed in low-paying service or retail industries, at places like Applebee’s or Walmart, or desperately trying to land  a few jobs with a number of fracking companies that are sucking every drop of natural gas out of the land. Everyone seems to know someone who has overdosed and died from opioids. There is no economic recovery going on in Fayette County right now. It is white, semi-rural, and unabashedly Trump-supporting, just like a thousand other forgotten places in this country.

Which brings us back to Eduardo Porter’s piece., which takes a hard, cold look at the prospect of reclaiming a decent standard of living for the 60 million or so Americans who live in backwaters like Fayette County, Pennsylvania. For the last 25 years, these areas have seen nothing but economic and population decline.

Rural America is getting old. The median age is 43, seven years older than city dwellers. Its productivity, defined as output per worker, is lower than urban America’s. Its families have lower incomes. And its share of the population is shrinking: the United States has grown by 75 million people since 1990, but this has mostly occurred in cities and suburbs. Rural areas have lost some 3 million people. Since the 1990s, problems such as crime and opioid abuse, once associated with urban areas, are increasingly rural phenomena.

While there have been many solutions suggested as ways to rejuvenate these areas, none of them seem to have taken hold. That is primarily because of a now wholly globalized, Hobbesian economy, and remarkable, if unsettling, leaps in worker-replacement technology and artificial intelligence.

Robots and workers in China put together most of the manufactured goods that Americans buy, and the high-tech industries powering the economy today don’t have much need for the cheap labor that rural communities contributed to America’s industrial past. They mostly need highly educated workers. They find those most easily in big cities, not in small towns.

Even the people recommending a revolution in rural investment suggest targeting areas that lie near major cities (“big tech hubs”), because those are the areas with the existing infrastructure to support such efforts; more importantly, those are the areas where highly-skilled workers are likely to be found. There’s a reason, for example, that Amazon just decided to build a new campus in Austin, Texas, rather than even a medium-sized city in the state.

This is the inescapable reality of agglomeration, one of the most powerful forces shaping the American economy over the last three decades. Innovative companies choose to locate where other successful, innovative companies are. That’s where they can find lots of highly skilled workers. The more densely packed these pools of talent are, the more workers can learn from each other and the more productive they become. This dynamic feeds on itself, drawing more high-tech firms and highly skilled workers to where they already are.

And if medium-sized cities can’t compete for such job-creating industries, what chance is there for rural areas? The brutal conclusion for Porter is: not a lot.

So what to do? Rather than do nothing, and let the people in these regions wither away (because most people living there can’t afford to leave), Porter suggests that we undertake some efforts geared to encourage relocation of people to where the jobs are. That would necessitate lowering the cost of living in some of the places that are thriving, most significantly, for housing. Revision of zoning rules to permit more affordable housing in and around places like New York, San Francisco, and other major cities is one of his suggestions. Implementing a national strategy to revitalize rural communities would seem to be another. Assisting people in obtaining an education is an obvious one.

Making a combination of all these approaches a national priority is a natural fit for Democratic policy-making. In particular, a strategy of bringing people to the areas where these jobs are would appear to benefit the long-term fortunes of Democrats, as cities also promote inclusion and diversity. People are just less inclined to hate and fear something or someone they encounter and work with every day.

There is no easy solution to the problems faced by rural America. But the failure of Trump and the Republicans to do anything but enrich themselves—and their donor base—with perversely counterproductive tax cuts provides Democrats with an enormous and inviting opportunity to make inroads with these potential voters, without compromising our values. Because, when it comes down to it, everyone wants a good place to work.

Now we know: Trey Gowdy altered CIA documents to frame Hillary Clinton

With Democrats set to assume control of the House of Representatives next month, it is important to take some time to reflect on the damages done by Republicans during their recent reign. It is equally important to establish priorities to undo as much of the damage done by conservative lawmakers as possible in the upcoming weeks and months.

Below is a reminder of just insidious leading Republicans became in their pursuit of doing everything possible to derail presumed Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the 2016 election.

Take for instance the bombshell revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency reached out to Democrats serving on the Select Committee on Benghazi on Saturday, October 17, 2015 to confirm that Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) had altered documents provided to the committee by Hillary Clinton.

Background

Monday, October 5, 2015, all five Democratic Members of the Select Committee on Benghazi sent a letter informing House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy that they planned to begin releasing witness interview transcripts, starting with the interview of former State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, in order to correct the public record after numerous inaccurate Republican leaks.

“Despite claims that the Committee would be run with integrity, Republicans have engaged in a series of selective leaks of inaccurate and incomplete information in an effort to attack Secretary Clinton with unsubstantiated or previously debunked allegations,” the Democrats wrote.

On October 7, 2015, Gowdy sent a response to ranking minority member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), stating that he was “disheartened at the nature and tone of Monday’s letter from your Democrat colleagues and you.”

In the letter, Gowdy referred extensively to Sidney Blumenthal, a long-time confidante and adviser to the Clintons, who served as assistant and senior adviser to Bill Clinton from August 1997 until January 2001.

In addition to Sidney Blumenthal’s business interests, Secretary Clinton also apparently received classified information from Blumenthal- information she should have known was classified at the time she received it. In one email, Blumenthal writes “Tyler spoke to a colleague currently at CIA, who told him the agency had been dependent for intelligence from [redacted due to sources and methods].”1 This information, the name of a human source, is some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but also human lives. Armed with that information, Secretary Clinton forwarded the email to a colleague–debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private email address.1 There may be other instances as well where Secretary Clinton passed on classified information she received from Sidney Blumenthal. [emphasis added]

However, as Newsweek reported on Sunday (October 18, 2015), the CIA informed the House Select Committee on Benghazi that Gowdy’s claims were false:

Indeed, according to committee correspondence reviewed by Newsweek, the CIA did tell the panel on Saturday that it had reviewed 127 emails between Clinton and her close friend and outside adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, and none of it was deemed classified.

“The CIA reviewed the material in question and informed State that it required no redactions,” the agency informed Susan Sachsman Grooms, staff director and general counsel for the panel’s Democrats, on October 17.

Rep. Elijah Cummings Accuses Trey Gowdy Of Making False Claims

Sunday (October 18, 2015), Cummings sent a letter to Gowdy to correct the public record in light of the fact that the CIA had  debunked Chairman Gowdy’s accusations.

Cummings began, writing that: “On October 7, 2015, you sent me a 13-page letter making a grave new accusation against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Specifically, you accused her of compromising national security and endangering lives,” adding that, “The problem with your accusation—as with so many others during this investigation—is that you failed to check your facts before you made it, and the CIA has now informed the Select Committee that you were wrong. I believe your accusations were irresponsible, and I believe you owe the Secretary an immediate apology.”

Cummings went on to accuse Gowdy of making the false claims against Clinton in an attempt to diffuse controversy surround Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s admission that the purpose of the Benghazi hearings was to discredit Clinton.

It appears that your letter was rushed out to the press to counter the public firestorm caused by Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s stark admission that Republicans are using millions of taxpayer dollars to damage Secretary Clinton’s bid for president. However, your letter only provided further evidence of this fact.

Speaking directly to Gowdy’s accusations against Clinton, Cummings wrote:

In your letter on October 7, 2015, you stated that Secretary Clinton received an email from Sidney Blumenthal on March 18, 2011, that included the name of someone who purportedly provided information to the CIA. You asserted that this information was classified, arguing that Secretary Clinton “received classified information from Blumenthal—information she should have known was classified at the time she received it.” You then alleged:

Armed with that information, Secretary Clinton forwarded that email to a colleague—debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private email address.

In your letter, you went to great lengths to highlight the gravity of your accusation, stating:

This information, the name of a human source, is some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but human lives.

Cummings Drops A Bomb On Trey Gowdy

Cummings then dropped the bomb – accusing Gowdy of altering documents in an effort to frame Clinton:

To further inflate your claim, you placed your own redactions over the name of the individual with the words, “redacted due to sources and methods.” To be clear, these redactions were not made, and these words were not added, by any agency of the federal government responsible for enforcing classification guidelines.

Cummings continued, emphasizing the fact that the CIA had thoroughly debunked Gowdy’s false claims against Clinton:

Contrary to your claims, the CIA yesterday informed both the Republican and Democratic staffs of the Select Committee that they do not consider the information you highlighted in your letter to be classified. Specifically, the CIA confirmed that “the State Department consulted with the CIA on this production, the CIA reviewed these documents, and the CIA made no redactions to protect classified information.”

Unfortunately, you sent your letter on October 7 without checking first with the CIA. Now that we have done so, we have learned that your accusations were incorrect.

Cummings concluded his letter, writing that Gowdy’s actions have “brought discredit” on the Benghazi investigation and has “undermine[d] the integrity” of the committee and the House of Representatives itself:

Unfortunately, the standard operating procedure of this Select Committee has become to put out information publicly that is inaccurate and out of context in order to attack Secretary Clinton for political reasons. These repeated actions bring discredit on this investigation and undermine the integrity of the Select Committee and the House of Representatives.

Texas federal judge declares Affordable Care Act unconstitutional . . . TeaPublicans should not celebrate

Be careful of what you ask for, you just might get it.  The Republicans have finally found one of their activist judges to rule the ACA unconstitutional.  No more subsidized insurance, no more covering pre-existing conditions, no more coverage on your parents plan to age 25…

The one thing we will get a lot more of is, Republicans backtracking like Usain Bolt running 100 Meters in full reverse.

And remember awhile back when the Republicans lost 40 seats in the house?!  This past election sent two messages.  For the Republicans it said, the American people REALLY care about health care, and for the Democrats it said, the American people REALLY care about health care!

In the next few days Republicans will be screaming that they’ll protect pre-existing conditions, and you’ll hear a series of lies about new plans that offer everything and will cost almost nothing.

And the Democrats will now be emboldened to do what they’ve been trying to do since Harry Truman, real universal health care for all.

Rather than a massive tax increase and taking away great insurance plans from 10’s of millions of workers, the giant step toward Medicare for all will be to simply replace the ACA with Medicare when Democrats control the congress in 2021.  It’s almost just a name change from the ACA to Medicare.

The new Medicare would offer subsidies to people wanting to buy into Medicare, with subsidies decreasing as incomes rise.  There aren’t pre-existing problems with Medicare and young adults wouldn’t have to be under their parents plan, they would simply have their own heavily subsidized plan.  And Medicare already has built in private insurance (part c which definitely needs reform) so people who want private insurance can get it through Medicare.  And all this happens without a big tax increase.

The new Medicare will pretty much be national health insurance but instead of paying to the IRS, most people will pay directly to Medicare.  It will open up all kinds of new revenue paths to expand coverage and clamp down on prescription drug prices and a lot of scams that need to be prosecuted.

If you think that the Republicans took big losses in the election because they attacked the ACA, wait until they start attacking Medicare to try and take health care away from people.

The Republicans may have gotten their wish by finding one of their fascist judges to declare the ACA unconstitutional, but they just threw the door wide open for a huge expansion of Medicare and Democrats and the American people are going to be happy to walk through it.  It won’t matter how much Republicans try to back away from this now, this door is jammed open and it’s not going to close.

You TeaPublicans need to understand: Mueller’s investigation is the LEAST of Trump’s worries

Every single aspect of Trump’s criminal family and criminal history is now under serious investigation.

Special Counsel Mueller is looking into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign for interfering with US election.  But that’s small potatoes compared to the rest of the investigations.

The attorney general of New York is investigating:
  • Trump Foundation.  Turns out, the Trump “Charitable”Foundation did donate a bit of money to charities, but, the bulk of the foundation’s work was laundering money from donors to Trump’s bank account.  The fines could amount to tens of millions.
  • Tax evasion.  Trump’s organizations have used various schemes to avoid paying local and state taxes.  He could owe hundreds of millions in back taxes.
  • Using real estate development incentive money to line his pocket.  Fines could reach into tens of millions.
Federal agencies are investigating:
  • Trump’s income taxes — personal and business — as well as similar taxes for every member of his family.  Penalties include jail time and tens of millions.
  • Trump’s inaugural committee scam.  Obama and Bush inaugural committees raised and spent $40-60 million.  Trump — whose inaugural was the smallest in modern history — raised and spent over $100 million.  Now it turns out much of the money was funneled into his pocket, through his businesses.
  • Trump Foundation.
  • Trump’s financial ties to Russia; Saudi Arabia, other MidEast Arab states; Deutsche Bank; Bank of Cuyprus.  These investigations focus on Trump’s organizations laundering money and not reporting foreign investments to the SEC.
  • Trump’s campaign committee’s use of donations to pay hush money to prostitutes, porn stars, and Playmates.
And — the press is now looking into:
  • Trump’s sexual harassment of teen girls at his various pageants.

Even if he survives until the 2020 election, he will not be re-elected and likely will face prosecution as soon as he is out of office.

Russia, Saudi Arabia, hush money, the inaugural, taxes, condos, university and the entire 30 years of dirty dealing, cheating, lying, stealing, the blood on their hands, the stealing of children from their families, all of it and… being the bottom of the bottom of the bottom. And now it’s all beginning to crumble around them. The long arm is bending towards justice and karma is walking up the pathway to make a long overdue knock on the door.

Happy Holidays…rest up because the New Year is going to be a doozy.

Investigations: Trump campaign; Trump inaugural committee; Trump-Russia; Russia-NRA; and now, the Trump family business

Donald Trump’s week has gone from bad to worse to full-blown panic. First was the humiliation of being rejected by Nick Ayers, current chief of staff for Mike Pence, who not only said he wouldn’t be taking the top job in the White House, but that he was leaving the administration entirely to go back to Georgia this month. Trump appears to be having a difficult time filling his chief of staff role, something others have equated to being a cabinet-level position because of the prominence this role plays in any presidential administration. Things got so bad in the search for a new chief of staff, Trump ultimately announced John Kelly would be sticking around longer than anticipated.

But, that humiliation is child’s play compared to the mounting criminal investigations surrounding Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Eric Trump, and the cast of criminal deplorables they’ve surrounded themselves with—a group who is flipping on them one-by-one. Case in point, the Wall Street Journal reports federal investigators in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office have launched a criminal probe into the business of Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, which raised a whopping $107 million. The investigation came about as a result of materials seized by the FBI during raids on Michael Cohen’s various properties in April. It seems Cohen’s habit of recording conversations is going to be the undoing of them all.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

Why should the Trump world be so worried about a recording between Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and Michael Cohen? Because every single thing about her role in the inauguration is a giant red flag. Wolkoff, who was an unpaid advisor to Melania Trump, created an event company in December 2016. A mere six weeks later, the Trump Inauguration committee paid that company $26 million, the largest payment to any vendor involved in the inauguration. Wolkoff enjoyed special access to the White House until the news broke about the huge amount paid to her start-up company. Melania Trump was quick to publicly distance herself from any of the work her advisor had done around the inauguration.

Two people with direct knowledge of Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s role, who asked to remain anonymous, said she often invoked Mrs. Trump’s name with transition officials as she delivered instructions for the inauguration. But Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump, said the first lady “had no involvement” with the inaugural committee “and had no knowledge of how funds were spent.”

The Wall Street Journal reports investigators are looking into three areas of the inauguration committee’s use of funds and fundraising:

  • If donations were solicited with the promise of political favors—a violation of federal corruption laws
  • If funds were diverted from the inauguration for other purposes—a violation of federal law
  • If the Trump inauguration committee accepted foreign money in exchange for access and influence—a violation of federal law

Investigators have already questioned at least one Trump inaugural donor who hired Michael Cohen for “consulting.”

Manhattan federal prosecutors in recent months asked Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney for documents related to a $1 million donation he made to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Haney in early April hired Mr. Cohen, at the time serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department for a nuclear-power project, the Journal has previously reported. Mr. Haney was asked for documents related to his correspondence with members of the committee, meeting calendars and paperwork for the donation, the person said. A loan application by Mr. Haney’s company is still pending at the Energy Department.

If those criminal inquiries weren’t enough, the New York Times reports federal investigators are also probing Trump’s America First super PAC, the place where many of the Trump administration castaways have landed cushy, high-paying jobs for doing … something. Some of the people who’ve landed jobs at the America First PAC include Trump’s former personal bodyguard Keith Schiller, who is reportedly earning a $15,000 per month salary for security “consulting,” and former Sheriff David Clarke, who campaigned heavily with Donald Trump and is now at the center of the Russian spy case after he accepted a trip to Russia—where he was wined and dined by the redheaded Russian spy Maria Butina and her boss, Alexander Torshin. It’s notable that Clarke’s official role in America First is “spokesman,” but he’s rarely even mentioned the super PAC on his social media feed, although he does occasionally retweet the America First Twitter account. When Omarosa Manigault-Newman left the White House, she says she too was offered a $15,000 per month job at the America First PAC by Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump and senior advisor to Trump’s 2020 re-election team.

Both investigations are looking into whether people from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were funneling money to the inauguration fund and the super PAC. In fact, they are looking at some very specific and suspicious meetings with people from those countries. From the New York Times:

Prosecutors from New York and from Mr. Mueller’s team have asked witnesses whether anyone from Qatar or other Middle Eastern countries also contributed money, perhaps using American intermediaries. Among other issues, they asked about a Mediterranean cruise that Mr. Barrack and Mr. Manafort took after Mr. Manafort was fired in August 2016 from the Trump campaign because of a scandal over his previous work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Mr. Manafort was in serious financial trouble at the time, and Mr. Barrack, who has an extensive business network in the Persian Gulf, may have been attempting to help him find clients.

On the cruise, the pair met one of the world’s richest men, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar. Until 2013, Mr. Al Thani presided over the country’s $230 billion sovereign wealth fund. He remains a highly influential member of the nation’s governing royal family.

Investigators also sought information from a businessman, Rashid Al Malik, an associate of Mr. Barrack’s who heads a private investment firm in the United Arab Emirates, according to a person familiar with the inquiry. Mr. Malik, whose lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has been described as close to a key figure in the U.A.E.’s government.

Paul Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after it came to light that he had accepted $12 million in secret payments from a Ukrainian politician. The response from the Trump campaign? Dispatch a friend of the campaign to take him on a cruise and line-up meetings with the richest people in the world. They should’ve been doing everything they could to distance themselves from Paul Manafort, so, why weren’t they?

Any way you look at it, it now seems increasingly apparent that Donald Trump and his family have been overseeing a criminal enterprise, one that was ignored—or even enabled—by establishment Republicans in Congress who looked the other way.

Finally, it should not go unnoticed that none of these investigations would be happening if one woman hadn’t stood up to tell her story. It was Stormy Daniels’s case that prompted the original investigation into the felonies that Michael Cohen eventually plead guilty to, and for which he received a 36-month prison sentence. It was that investigation that prompted the raid of Cohen’s home and office, which led to a treasure trove for the investigation. In the end, Daniels may just be the reason Donald Trump and/or some of his offspring find themselves in prison. Just one more incredible footnote to the bizarre moment in American history we find ourselves in today.

No one wants to work for Trump

Although it was reported on Friday that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the front runner to be Trump’s next chief of staff, Christie abruptly announced that he was taking himself out of the running. (Dec 14)

This is not good news for Trump: Mueller seals entire floor of DC federal courthouse for grand jury session

On Friday (Dec 14)  the entire fifth floor of a Washington D.C. court room was shut down, so that investigators in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe could obtain a subpoena in secrecy.

Journalists were shooed away, Politico reported, and hungrily waited for scoops—apparently none came.

As Mueller’s team waged battle behind closed doors, there was speculation that Trump himself was the target of the subpoena.

“At every level, this matter has commanded the immediate and close attention of the judges involved — suggesting that no ordinary witness and no ordinary issue is involved,” former federal prosecutor Nelson Cunningham wrote in Politico previously.

Another legal analyst told Politico that the secretive probe was odd.

“It’s not the norm, that’s for sure,” Manuel Retureta, a Washington-based defense lawyer said.

Trump’s inaugural committee was a scam — funneled most of the donations to the Trump Family Criminal Business

When it came out this year that President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went.

It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself.

The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”

If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law. The inaugural committee’s payments to the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump’s role have not been previously reported or disclosed in public filings.

“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.

Inaugural workers had other misgivings. Rick Gates, then the deputy to the chairman of the inaugural, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, rather than through the committee, according to two people with direct knowledge. The vendors felt the request was unusual and concerning, according to these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they signed confidentiality agreements. It is not clear whether any vendors took him up on his request.

The revelations about the inauguration’s finances show how Trump blurred the lines between his political and business lives, as the real estate mogul ascended to the presidency.

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether the inaugural committee misspent money and whether donors gave in return for political favors, citing people familiar with the matter. In addition, The New York Times reported that prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally funnelled money to the inauguration.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, said: “When contacted by someone working on the inauguration, Ms. Trump passed the inquiry on to a hotel official and said only that any resulting discussions should be at a ‘fair market rate.’ Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”

Mirijanian did not provide evidence that Ivanka Trump sought a fair market rate.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said it “is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists.” The White House and a lawyer for Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not comment.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday night, when asked about the story in the Journal.

President-elect Trump was repeatedly briefed on inaugural planning and specific events, according to one committee worker with direct knowledge. WNYC and ProPublica have seen presentations that were shown to the president-elect, complete with renderings and floor plans.

Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee, which was chaired by his friend the businessman Tom Barrack, raised nearly $107 million from donors including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and AT&T. The January 2017 festivities cost almost twice President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, previously the most expensive. The nonprofit that planned Trump’s inauguration booked many spaces in the Trump International Hotel, located in the Old Post Office building near the White House, including a ballroom, hotel rooms and work spaces, as well as paying for meals there, according to several people who worked on the inauguration.

How the inaugural committee managed to spend all the money it raised remains a mystery, nearly two years after the event. While groups that support political candidates or issues must publicly detail their spending, an inaugural committee is required to list only its top five contractors. That leaves about $40 million unaccounted for.

Greg Jenkins, who led George W. Bush’s second inauguration, was perplexed by the Trump team’s mammoth fundraising haul. “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins told WNYC and ProPublica this year. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

As planning for the inauguration was underway in December 2016, Ivanka Trump was still an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. But she was reportedly preparing to move to Washington and take on a greater public role. She now serves as an adviser to the president.

Around the middle of the month, with Inauguration Day scarcely a month away, Ivanka Trump was asked to help resolve a dispute between inaugural planners and her family’s Washington hotel, according to emails.

The problem: Organizers thought the hotel was charging too much money.

Emails show that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt responded with a new rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, offering a $700,000 charge for four days of use.

It is not clear what the earlier price was, but Damelincourt’s revised rate did not satisfy one of the lead organizers of the inauguration, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

In an email to Ivanka Trump and Gates, Wolkoff, who had previously managed the Metropolitan Museum’s annual gala and fashion shows at Lincoln Center, expressed discomfort with the price.

“I wanted to follow up on our conversation and express my concern,” Wolkoff wrote in the December email.

“These events are in PE’s [the president-elect’s] honor at his hotel and one of them is for family and close friends. Please take into consideration that when this is audited it will become public knowledge,” she wrote, noting that other locations would be provided to the inaugural committee for free.

“I understand that compared to the original pricing this is great but we should look at the whole context,” Wolkoff wrote, suggesting a day rate of $85,000, less than half of the Trump hotel’s offer.

A former Trump hotel staffer confirmed that the inaugural committee paid for inaugural week events at the hotel. It’s not clear what price the committee ultimately paid. Previous media coverage has focused on spending by outside groups at the Trump hotel but it was not known that the official inaugural committee itself spent significant sums there.

Wolkoff also raised concerns about spending in a conversation with then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, according to the story in the Journal. Federal prosecutors have a recording of that conversation, according to the Journal. The Times story suggests that conversation took place well after the inauguration.

Wolkoff, who is a friend of first lady Melania Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Wolkoff’s firm, WIS Media Partners, was the inauguration’s highest-paid contactor, according to the committee’s tax filing. Wolkoff was scrutinized in media accounts this year because the firm received nearly $26 million. Most of that of the money was passed on to subcontractors, according to a person familiar with the spending. It is possible that payments to the Trump hotel were included in that sum.

If the Trump hotel charged the inaugural committee above-market rates, it could violate tax rules, according to Owens, the nonprofit tax expert who is now a partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb.

If a person with “substantial influence” over a nonprofit group charges the group above-market rates in a transaction with their outside business, the IRS can impose steep fines. In this case, Donald Trump could qualify as a person with such influence. Should the tax agency find that a violation occurred, the Trump Organization would have to refund any overcharge and the inaugural committee would be hit with a 25 percent tax on the money, Owens said.

Owens added that IRS audits of nonprofits are increasingly rare. Since the inaugural committee was incorporated in Virginia, the state attorney general there could also have standing to investigate its operations.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said its finances “were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted. … These were funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors.”

The inaugural committee spent money at the Trump International in Washington in other ways as well. Many workers came from California and New York and stayed at the hotel, eating their meals there and holding meetings. Receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica show they typically paid about $350 a night. According to an inaugural worker, 15 to 20 inaugural workers stayed at the hotel most nights for roughly a month in the run-up to the inauguration, at a total cost of what could be more than $200,000.

The professional resumes of top Trump hotel staffers indicate they worked closely with the presidential inaugural committee. The hotel’s director of food and beverage says on his LinkedIn profile that he was “working with PIC [Presidential Inaugural Committee] during the 2017 Inauguration” and a “related series of very special events.”

The day before Trump’s swearing in, the inaugural committee hosted a Leadership Luncheon in the hotel’s Presidential Ballroom, featuring his cabinet nominees and major donors. “This is a gorgeous room,” the president-elect told the crowd. “A total genius must have built this place.” And the night of the inauguration itself, Trump’sfamily and close allies such as Sean Hannity celebrated into the early morning at an exclusive after-party in the Trump hotel’s grand lobby. Thousands of red, white and blue balloons were released from the rafters.

Some vendors for the inauguration became concerned when Gates, a top inaugural committee official, asked them to take payments outside of the normal committee invoicing process, according to two people with knowledge of what happened. He proposed that they be paid for their work directly from a would-be donor rather than by the committee. Gates told the vendors that the inaugural committee had received pledges of more money than was initially targeted, and, therefore, he wished to reduce the publicly reported sum raised.

Gates did not respond to a request for comment. Last February, he pleaded guilty to unrelated charges of lying to the FBI and conspiracy, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry.

Over the summer, Gates was cross examined about his work for the inauguration in the trial of his former boss, Paul Manafort. Gates conceded that he might have charged personal expenses to the committee. “It’s possible,” he said.

In a separate episode this year, a U.S. lobbyist pleaded guilty to helping a Ukrainian businessman and member of Parliament buy tickets to the inauguration, in violation of rules barring the committee from taking foreign money. The inaugural committee was not accused of wrongdoing in that case.