FBI told Hope Hicks that e-mails came from Russian government addresses
Developments on Day 323 of the Trump Administration:
Russian E-Mails to Trump’s Confidante
FBI officials warned one of Donald Trump’s top advisors, Hope Hicks, about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the transition after the 2016 election, according to “people familiar with the events”.
Moscow’s efforts show that, even after US intelligence agencies publicly accused Russia of trying to influence the election, Russian operatives pursued contacts with Trump’s advisors.
Hicks is now White House Communications Director. The former model is considered to be one of Trump’s closest confidantes.
There is no evidence that Hicks did anything improper so far over the introductory e-mails from Russian government addresses in the weeks after Trump’s election.
In February, senior FBI counterintelligence agents met Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice. In a ““defensive briefing”, they gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be.
The FBI also met “one other person close to the President” over the matter.
On Thursday and Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team interviewed Hicks as part of the Trump-Russia investigation. It is not clear if the Russian e-mails were part of the discussion.
Hicks may also be under scrutiny for her role in Donald Trump Jr.’s false statement in July 2017 about his meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys more than a year earlier in Trump Tower. She was aboard Air Force One, returning from the G20 summit in Germany, when Donald Trujmp Sr. reportedly drafted the statement which said the June 2016 encounter was about “adoptions”, rather than the Russian offer to provide material damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
1,052 Excess Deaths in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria
A review by The New York Times of daily deaths in Puerto Rico indicates a death toll from Hurricane Maria which is more than 17 times higher than the official number.
The Times found that in the 42 days after the hurricane made landfall on September 20, an excess of 1,052 people died across the island, compared to the same days in 2015 and 2016.
Officially, just 64 people died from the storm.
“Before the hurricane, I had an average of 82 deaths daily. That changes from September 20 to 30. Now I have an average of 118 deaths daily,” Wanda Llovet, the director of the Demographic Registry in Puerto Rico, said in mid-November interview.
Data for October is incomplete, and the number of deaths recorded in that month is expected to rise.
The power grid for Puerto Rico’s 3.8 million residents is still operating at less than 70% of its capacity, with sections of the island still without power.
The deadliest day was September 25. The temperature was more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and power was out on most of the island, even in most hospitals. Bedridden people were having trouble getting medical treatment, and dialysis clinics were operating with generators and limiting treatment hours. People on respirators lacked electricity to power the machines.
That night Donald Trump said on Twitter that Puerto Rico had to deal with its massive debt, and insisted, “Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well.”
CFPB Head Mulvaney Pushed CFPB to Back Off Donors Bankrolling His Campaigns
Mick Mulvaney, now the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, repeatedly pressed the CFPB to back off lending regulations affecting financial industry donors who were bankrolling his congressional bids.
During his congressional campaigns in South Carolina — home to one of the largest payday lenders in America —
Mulvaney took in more than $567,000 from donors in the commercial banking, credit and securities/investment industries. This included more than $55,000 from donors in the payday and title loan industry.
In September 2016, Mulvaney and eleven other lawmakers protested a CFPB rule that would require payday and title lenders to “reasonably determine that the consumer has the ability to repay the loan”. For certain loans “with an annual percentage rate greater than 36%”, lenders would be barred from withdrawing “payment from a consumer’s account after two consecutive payment attempts have failed.”
Mulvaney and the other legislators said that the rule “has the potential to severely restrict access to credit that millions of Americans rely on” and that “in an effort to keep unscrupulous actors out or the industry, the CFPB will simultaneously be harming the very consumers it is trying to protect.”
In the three weeks leading up to the letter, Mulvaney received $18,500 in campaign contributions from payday lenders’ political action committees and executives.
In another 2016 letter spearheaded by Mulvaney, he and his fellow South Carolina GOPlawmakers criticized CFPB efforts to regulate payday lenders, saying it “will preempt existing laws in our state and will ultimately result in our constituents being forced to tum to risky, unregulated forms of credit.
Three years earlier, Mulvaney signed a letter with other lawmakers pushing the CFPB to create an “advisory board made up of non-bank lenders, including payday lenders”. Less than two months after the letter was sent to the CFPB, Mulvaney received $17,500 from donors in the payday and title lending industry.
The White Houe put Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Bureau, into the CPFB in late November to pre-empt a handover of authority among staff. The head, Richard Cordray, had resigned early and named Leandra English as his successor.
In addition to his legislative efforts to curb the CFPB, Mulvaney had called the agency a “sick, sad” joke.
Obama’s Warning for the Trump Era — “You Have to Tend to Democracy”
Obama: “The principle of the free press is vital”
Developments on Day 324 of the Trump Administration:
Obama’s Remarks on Democracy and Presidential Responsibility
Footage is circulation of former President Barack Obama’s message to Americans to be vigilant about their political system, amid the activities and rhetoric of the Trump Administration.
Speaking at the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, Obama did not specifically refer to Donald Trump or his advisors, but was clear in his warning about the state of US politics as he invoked the historic example of the rise of Nazi Germany:
You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly. And we’ve seen societies where that happens.
Now, presume there was a ballroom here in Vienna in the late 1920s or ’30s that looked and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. An entire world was plunged into chaos.
So you got to pay attention — and vote.
Obama also spoke of the responsibility of Presidents and the times when they have failed to uphold standards and values:
FDR [Franklin Roosevelt] is one of my political heroes. In my mind, the second greatest president after Lincoln….But he interned a bunch of loyal Japanese Americans during World War II. That was a threat to our institutions.
There have been periods in our history where censorship was considered OK. We had the McCarthy era [of the 1950s]. We had a President [Richard Nixon] who had to resign prior to impeachment because he was undermining rule of law. At every juncture, we’ve had to wrestle with big problems.
And, amid Donald Trump’s incessant attacks on journalists, Obama emphasized the importance of maintaining freedom of the press:
During my Presidency, the press often drove me nuts. There were times where I thought reporters were ill-informed. There were times where they didn’t actually get the story right.
But what I understood was that principle of the free press was vital, and that, as President, part of my job was to make sure that that was maintained.
In October, both Obama and former President George W. Bush expressed their concerns about the Trump era, with encouragement of bigotry, incitement to hatred, division, and spurious nationalism.
Sharply Cutting Back National Parks, Trump Administration & GOP Legislators Attack Private Company Patagonia
The Trump Administration and House Republicans have attacked the outdoor retailer Patagonia for daring to criticize Donald Trump’s sharp reduction of two national parks in Utha.
Patagonia said this week that it will sue the administration over the “illegal [and] unprecedented attempt to shut down our national monuments”.
The Bears Ears park will be slashed from almost 1.5 million acres to 228,784 acres, while Grand Staircase-Escalante will be halved from around 2 million acres to 1,006,341 acres.
Trump’s measure opens up the previously-protected land to corporations and mining companies. It followed an intensive lobbying campaign by a uranium mining firm Energy Fuels Resources.
Patagonia responded by posting the message “The President Stole Your Land” on its homepage.
The House Committee on Natural Resources, led by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, hit back by mimicking the graphic: “Patagonia Is Lying To You”, and calling the company’s customers “wealthy elitist urban dwellers”.
Walter Shaub, the director of the US Office of Government Ethics, noted that the attack appears to be a violation of House committee rules on social media communications and said, “Officially and publicly calling a company a liar for political reasons is a bizarre and dangerous departure from civic norms.”
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) December 9, 2017