By Robert A. Vella
Just finished my taxes and I must submit payment to IRS for the first time in decades. Thank you effing Republicans! Americans can always depend on you to stick it to the little guy.
Selling access to Trump
The latest Trump political donor to draw controversy is Li Yang, a 45-year-old Florida entrepreneur from China who founded a chain of spas and massage parlors that included the one where New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft was recently busted for soliciting prostitution. She made the news this week when the Miami Herald reported that last month she had attended a Super Bowl viewing party at Donald Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club and had snapped a selfie with the president during the event. Though Yang no longer owns the spa Kraft allegedly visited, the newspaper noted that other massage parlors her family runs have “gained a reputation for offering sexual services.” (She told the newspaper she has never violated the law.) Beyond this sordid tale, there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.
NY AG probe
The New York attorney general’s office late on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump Organization projects and a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014, according to a person briefed on the subpoenas.
The inquiry opens a new front in the scrutiny of Deutsche Bank, one of the few lenders willing to do business with Donald J. Trump in recent years. The bank is already the subject of two congressional investigations and was examined last year by New York banking regulators, who took no action.
The new inquiry, by the office of the attorney general, Letitia James, was prompted by the congressional testimony last month of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, the person briefed on the subpoenas said. Mr. Cohen testified under oath that Mr. Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements, and Mr. Cohen provided copies of statements he said had been submitted to Deutsche Bank.
EPA destroyed records
Employees at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) destroyed records they knew were being audited, a new memo posted to a government database reveals.
According to the memo written by the agency’s inspector general (IG), the staffers worked for the EPA’s chief financial officer, Donald Trump appointee Holly Greaves. Per her official bio, the mission of Greaves’ team is “to ensure the effective management and financial integrity of EPA’s resources and annual budget, which was $8.8 billion in fiscal year 2018.”
The missing documents include notes and a spreadsheet regarding security controls protecting EPA budget data, the IG memo says.
Greaves’ office has until March 23 to respond to the EPA inspector general’s accusations.
Court unseals documents
MIAMI – A federal court of appeals in New York on Monday took the first step in unsealing documents that could reveal evidence of an international sex trafficking operation allegedly run by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein and his former partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell.
In 2008, Epstein received a controversial plea deal that gave him and an untold number of others who were not named immunity from federal prosecution. The non-prosecution agreement, brokered by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, is now the focus of a Justice Department investigation.
Acosta, now Trump’s secretary of labor, has said that the deal was approved at the highest levels of the agency.
A federal judge ruled on Feb. 22 that the deal was illegal because Acosta kept it from Epstein’s victims in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, a federal law that grants victims certain rights, including the right to be told about a plea deal and to appear at sentencing.
The site, NRATV, is a central part of the organization’s messaging apparatus. Since its creation in 2016, it has adopted an increasingly apocalyptic, hard-right tone, warning of race wars, describing Barack Obama as a “fresh-faced flower-child president,” calling for a march on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and comparing journalists to rodents.
In recent weeks, in a rare airing of internal debate at the N.R.A., two prominent board members expressed concerns about NRATV to The New York Times. Their statements were released through the N.R.A. itself, amid what was described as an internal review of NRATV and its future.
The reassessment underscores a debate within the N.R.A. over how broad its activism should be. And it comes as the organization faces a storm of challenges, including a series of mass shootings that has created a new generation of gun-control activists.
Congressional investigations into the N.R.A.’s possible Russia ties were energized after Maria Butina, a suspected Russian agent, pleaded guilty in December to using the N.R.A. in a political influence operation. And the organization, incorporated in New York, may have a potent foe in Letitia James, the state’s recently elected attorney general, who has vowed to investigate the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status.
As falling membership dues put the N.R.A. under further strain, board members have also expressed concern about the size of payments to the ad firm that produces NRATV, Ackerman McQueen.
WASHINGTON — In 2019 Russia will likely try to influence the European Parliament elections, continue intelligence and influence operations against the West, and keep preparing for armed conflict with NATO, according to the latest annual threat assessment produced by the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service.
Russia will target the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections, the report says, with a likely focus on the larger member states — Germany, France, and Italy — where it can hope to have the most influence on the composition of the EU Parliament, whose members are elected for five-year terms.