Lawyers with the Housing and Urban Development department warned HUD Secretary Ben Carson that by having his son, businessman Ben Carson Jr., actively involved in organizing a listening tour in Baltimore last summer, he was risking violating federal ethics rules, The Washington Post reports.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Post obtained a July 6, 2017, memo written by Linda M. Cruciani, HUD's deputy general counsel for operations, who said she had been told by HUD officials they were concerned about Carson Jr. and his wife, Merlynn, inviting people to tour events. Theses officials believed the Carsons "may be doing business with these entities or may be interested in doing business with these entities," Cruciani said, and she also "expressed my concern that this gave the appearance that the secretary may be using his position for his son's private gain."
HUD officials say that since becoming a member of President Trump's Cabinet, Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has leaned heavily on his wife, Candy, and his son and daughter-in-law. All three ended up attending several events on Carson's listening tour of Baltimore housing projects, despite Cruciani's warning, including closed-door sessions on housing policy, a person with knowledge of the matter told the Post.
Officials also told Cruciani that Carson Jr. and his wife invited the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, to an event, and federal records show that about three months later, CMS awarded a $485,000 contract to a consulting company called Myriddian, without a competitive bidding process. Myriddian's CEO is Merlynn Carson, and Ben Carson Jr. is a board member. A spokesman said Verma did not attend any tour events, and in a statement, Ben Carson said, "My family, or people with relationships with my family, have never influenced any decision at HUD." Read more about Cruciani's concerns and Carson's dependence on his family at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia
Paul Manafort's financial fraud trial has come to close, but that doesn't mean his fate is sealed.
Manafort, who is President Trump's former campaign chairman, was found guilty of eight counts of financial fraud Tuesday. However, 10 charges were declared a mistrial, meaning Manafort can be retried on those counts, reports The Washington Post.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into whether the Trump campaign was involved with Russian election interference in 2016, also led the team of prosecutors who made the case over the course of two weeks that Manafort should be convicted of tax evasion and bank fraud. The team will have to decide within one week whether they want to retry Manafort on the remaining 10 charges, after the jury was unable to reach a consensus, reports BuzzFeed News. There is no sentencing date yet for the eight felony charges.
On top of Manafort's guilty verdict, he still has to worry about a second trial, set to start in September in Washington, D.C. That trial will determine whether Manafort will face additional consequences over charges of failing to register as a lobbyist for the Ukraine government. Those charges are the reason Manafort has been in solitary, albeit comparatively luxurious, confinement — a judge revoked his bail after he was accused of witness tampering in June.
So while Manafort reportedly received the news of his guilty verdict with nothing more than a stoic look, that may have been because he was thinking about how far he has yet to go. Read more at The Washington Post Summer Meza
In the span of about an hour Tuesday, two big dominoes fell in President Trump's world. First, a jury found former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty on eight felony charges of financial crimes, including two counts of bank fraud and five counts of tax evasion. While the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the other 10 counts against Manafort, Tuesday's verdict combines to carry a sentence of 240 years for the 69-year-old.
Minutes after the verdict against Manafort was read aloud in a courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony charges of his own, in a Manhattan courtroom. Manafort's indictment had resulted from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016, and his charges largely stem from work he did abroad before he joined Trump's team. But Mueller's team had referred Cohen's case to New York-based federal prosecutors, and Cohen on Tuesday admitted to tax fraud and violating campaign finance laws as a result of their investigation.
The president, meanwhile, was several miles above the fray Tuesday — but only literally. Trump boarded Air Force One on his way to a rally in West Virginia virtually simultaneously to the two cases reaching their ominous end:
In a scene you couldn't script, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is found guilty on eight counts and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleads guilty to eight counts within minutes of each other. Trump is on Air Force One flying to a rally in West Virginia.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) August 21, 2018
Cohen specifically said he'd committed his crimes "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office," which is inevitably Trump. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters she "[didn't] have anything" to say regarding the Manafort and Cohen cases. As for the president himself, well, Air Force One is outfitted with WiFi, but he has yet to respond. Kimberly Alters
President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts of financial crimes. Cohen surrendered to the FBI earlier Tuesday and appeared in federal court in Manhattan where he admitted to campaign finance violations as well as tax and bank fraud. The deal includes the possibility of up to five years in prison for Cohen, CNN reports.
New York Daily News reporter Stephen Brown detailed the charges, which include five counts of tax evasion, one count of giving a false statement to a financial institution, one count of "willful cause of unlawful corporate contribution," and one count of "excessive campaign contribution." The latter refers to the $130,000 payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an affair she says she had with Trump in 2006. Cohen, detailing the crimes he was pleading to in court, said he'd made the payments to Daniels, as well as to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office."
The New York Times first reported that the deal concerned the payments Cohen made to the women, who alleged they'd had extramarital affairs with Trump. The president initially said he did not know about Cohen's payment to Daniels, but he eventually admitted on Twitter that he did. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani further revealed in May that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment.
The fraud case had been referred to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. When asked about Cohen's plea, as well as the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I don't have anything for you on that." Kimberly Alters
President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight counts of financial fraud Tuesday. The judge declared a mistrial on 10 of the counts in the bank and tax fraud trial, as jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on those charges.
NBC News reports that Manafort was found guilty on one count of failing to file a foreign bank account, two counts of bank fraud, and five counts of tax evasion. Manafort, 69, faces 240 years in prison for the felony charges, reports CNN, most of which result from work Manafort did abroad before he joined Trump's team. The remaining 10 counts can be retried at a later date. Summer Meza
Facebook has gone from rating the trustworthiness of its publishers to rating the trustworthiness of its users.
The tech giant is now assigning users a "reputation score" by rating them on a scale of zero to one, reports The Washington Post. The initiative is part of Facebook's effort to stop the spread of fake news, with the goal of identifying people who falsely report news items on a consistent basis. It's not unheard of "for people to tell us something is false simply because they disagree with the premise of a story or they're intentionally trying to target a particular publisher," said Facebook product manager Tessa Lyons.
The rating system is rather simple. When Facebook receives a "fake news" report, the company verifies the claim with a third-party fact checker. If the article is found to be accurate, the user's credibility score goes down the next time they try to flag an article. If the article is actually false, the user's score improves.
Unfortunately for users, trustworthiness scores are only available to Facebook. The company previously announced that it would give users the opportunity to rate media outlets based on their perceived trustworthiness; those ratings would then help determine which articles received a higher spot in the News Feed. Since the 2016 election and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have tried to reshape their image by speaking out against fake news. Read more about the reputation scores at The Washington Post. Amari Pollard
Prisoners across the country are going on strike.
Starting on Tuesday, inmates at prisons in at least 17 states plan to boycott work and launch demonstrations to protest facility conditions and low wages, Mother Jones reports. Inmates will refuse to work, organize sit-ins, boycott commissaries, and in some cases go on hunger strikes, hoping to draw attention by coordinating the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an inmate collective that provides legal help to other prisoners, organized the strike. "Prisons in America are a war zone," the organization said in a statement. "Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement." JLS also released a list of demands, including increased access to rehabilitation services, voting rights, and standard wages for prison labor.
Of the country's 2.3 million incarcerated individuals, reports The Guardian, more than 800,000 cook, clean, or work other jobs for wages as low as 4 cents an hour. Prisoners were recently paid $1 an hour, plus $2 a day to fight wildfires in California, reports Vox. The practice is one of the main issues at the heart of the protest, with JLS calling for "an immediate end to prison slavery."
Prison officials have not been vocal about the protest thus far, but advocates say inmates have been put into solitary confinement ahead of the strikes to cut down on communication efforts. While it's unclear how many inmates plan to participate in the strike, in 2016 a 12-state strike included more than 20,000 inmates who protested overcrowding and facility conditions. Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza
In the tiny liberal town of Altena, Germany, an extra allotment of refugees appeared to be welcomed with open arms. But local Facebook pages tell a different story.
Racist content permeates the town's online ecosystem in ways residents just don't see in real life — until it breaks out into anti-refugee violence. And a new study suggests Facebook is to blame, The New York Times reports.
Two researchers at the University of Warwick examined every incident of anti-refugee violence in Germany over a two-year period, breaking down the 3,335 attacks by wealth, far-right political support, and other relevant demographics. But the strongest correlation to violence appeared when towns had above-average Facebook use, per the Times. When a town's Facebook usage was a standard deviation above Germany's national average, anti-refugee attacks went up 50 percent. Across Germany, Facebook accounted for an estimated one-tenth of anti-refugee violence — or more than 300 attacks.
Altena locals could've told you about the Facebook factor without a study. When asked why seemingly harmless firefighter Dirk Denkhaus tried to burn down a refugee group house, residents mentioned a surge of racist Facebook posts on Altena pages to the Times. Nazi memes permeated event pages for food drives benefiting refugees and Denkhaus' own page, even though refugees wouldn't sense racism walking through the town square.