March 8, 2018

President Trump used a well-known anti-Semitic dog whistle on Thursday while wishing his best to outgoing National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. "This is Gary Cohn's last Cabinet meeting," Trump said. "He may be a globalist, but I still like him. He is seriously a globalist, no question."

Earlier this week, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney faced criticism after he also called Cohn a "globalist" in a statement. Cohn is Jewish and "for the far right, globalism has long had distinct xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic overtones," writes Liam Stack in his "glossary of extremist language" in The New York Times.

Trump added that "in his own way, [Cohn is] also a nationalist because he loves our country." Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange

March 8, 2018
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President Trump's real estate sales have gotten much more secretive since he won the Republican nomination in 2016, with the majority of buyers now using limited liability companies to hide to-be owners' names, a USA Today investigation has found. In the two years before Trump was nominated, just 4 percent of buyers used shell companies to make purchases; in the year that followed, and throughout Trump's first year in office, that rate jumped all the way to 70 percent.

Attorney Bobby Burchfield, who was appointed to review the ethics of new Trump real estate deals, told USA Today that "if someone wants to do business with the Trump entities in the form of an LLC, we look behind the LLC to see who the owner of it is and where the funding is coming from. If we can't determine that, we won't sign off on it." Ross Delston, an attorney who specializes in anti-money laundering, argued in return: “From what we know of the Trump Organization's past real estate deals is they never see deals they don't like."

Ramsis Ghaly, a neurosurgeon who bought a Trump condo in Chicago, said he used an LLC on the advice of a consultant. "Was I nervous my name could be associated with him? Sure, you're always concerned with the politics and media, but for me the positives of the property outweighed the negatives," he explained.

Trump companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017. Read more about the secretive sales, and who is actually purchasing the condos, at USA Today. Jeva Lange

March 8, 2018

President Trump's re-election campaign spent over half a million dollars in 2017 to rent out space on the 14th floor of Trump Tower, despite the fact that only five people appear to be on the payroll, HuffPost reports. "There's nobody there. It's like two guys," said a Republican consultant. "There is no campaign. There is no operation. It's just a joke."

In 2015 and the spring of 2016, when Trump was primarily self-funding his campaign, the rent for the Trump Tower offices was $35,458 a month. By July 2016, when Trump started accepting donations, that price almost quintupled to $169,758 a month, despite the number of staff staying relatively consistent.

Last year, Trump spent $473,371 of donors' money at Trump Tower, although HuffPost notes that "about $150,000 of that was likely for the month immediately after his election, when the campaign was occupying more space in the building." In total, the campaign spent $774,163 at Trump-branded businesses in 2017. The Republican National Committee, which took over paying monthly rental of the Trump Tower office in autumn for $37,542 a month, spent a total of $150,169 at Trump businesses by the year's end.

"This is the least surprising president in history," said GOP consultant Stuart Stevens of those numbers. "He's exactly the same person he was in the campaign. It's what you signed up for."

Editor's note: This story's headline originally misstated who is currently paying rent at Trump Tower. It has since been corrected. We regret the error. Jeva Lange

March 7, 2018

A nerve agent was used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter, who were found unconscious in Salisbury, England, over the weekend, British authorities said Wednesday. The announcement comes amid suspicions that the pair were the victims of an attempted murder sanctioned by the Russian government, The New York Times reports.

Russia has been accused of murdering critics, informants, and spies on foreign soil before; a massive BuzzFeed News investigation published last summer explored other potential Kremlin assassination plots in Britain. "This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent," confirmed Britain's chief of counterterrorism, Mark Rowley. The Telegraph writes that "the medical and chemical evidence and the effects on the victims point to a sophisticated nerve toxin. The best known are VX and sarin."

The victims, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are still in critical condition.

Skripal was convicted in Russia in 2006 of selling secrets to British agents, and was eventually handed over to Britain in a 2010 spy swap; his brother and son died suspiciously in the intervening years, family members told The New York Times. A number of first responders called to the scene where the Skripals were found also became sick, and one police officer is also in "serious condition." Jeva Lange

March 7, 2018

As Russian agents were working to influence the 2016 presidential election, they were also quietly harvesting data about ordinary Americans and small businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports. Using fake Facebook and Instagram accounts associated with activist or interest groups like the Black Lives Matter movement or "Southern heritage," Russian "trolls" collected names, phone numbers, email addresses, websites, and even videos of Americans who believed they were simply joining databases or earning free promotion.

"Russian intelligence services … can sit back and collect from thousands of miles away," explained Leo Taddeo, the chief information security officer of the cybersecurity firm Cyxtera Technologies. "The more they know about us, and what we care about, the better they can sharpen their influence campaigns."

Only, it isn't precisely clear what exactly the Russians plan to use the information for. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe has suggested "Russian operators used stolen American identities to open bank and PayPal accounts, create fake driver's licenses, post messages online, and buy political advertisements before the 2016 election," The Wall Street Journal writes, adding that "the operators allegedly kept a list of more than 100 Americans and their political views to 'monitor recruitment efforts.'"

In one particularly startling case, an Orlando-based fitness instructor was paid $700 by the puppet group Black4Black to teach self-defense lessons and turn over videos, phone numbers, and email addresses of the people who showed up. The instructor said he turned over photos and videos but didn't pass on contact information, and he eventually cut ties with Black4Black when it pushed him to teach more "aggressive" lessons, like offensive combat. Read more about the efforts to gather Americans' personal data at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

March 5, 2018

President Trump's former campaign adviser, Sam Nunberg, openly flaunted the fact that he is refusing to comply with a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday, telling MSNBC's Katy Tur: "I think it would be funny if they arrested me."

In an earlier interview with The Washington Post, Nunberg had said that while he is no fan of Trump's these days, "I'm not spending 80 hours going over my emails with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon and producing them. Donald Trump won this election on his own … and there is nobody who hates him more than me." Nunberg nevertheless suggested to Tur that "Trump very well may have done something during the election," though he claimed, "I don't know that for sure."

At the end of the interview, Nunberg asked Tur what she thought Mueller might do to him. "I'm not a lawyer," she answered, "but I think he'll hold you in contempt of court." Watch part of the wild interview below. Jeva Lange

February 20, 2018

A member of Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish School Board said Tuesday that he is "saddened by the misplaced reaction" to a disturbing meme he posted on Facebook. The image featured a noose and the text "if we want to make America great again, we will have to make evil people fear punishment again," The Advocate reports.

The post, which Mike Whitlow shared after the Florida school shooting, provoked a statement from local councilman Louis Joseph, who said: "I am extremely offended by his post as we all know the history and meaning of the hangman's noose, especially as it pertains to African-Americans. As a member of the school board, what message are you sending to the students, employees, and parents of our school system, let alone people that may be considering moving into our parish?"

The meme appears to have originated in October 2017 on a page called Weapons Vault, a pro-gun and Second Amendment Facebook group, New Orleans' WWL-TV reports. "Yesterday, I came across an article on Facebook that advocated for such stiffer sentences for violence offenses and simply shared the article on my personal Facebook page," Whitlow said. "The article had no racial or discriminatory tones whatsoever."

He deleted the noose meme, adding: "I apologize to anyone who was offended by a post I recently shared." Jeva Lange

February 12, 2018
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The latest member of President Trump's Cabinet to draw scrutiny over his travel is Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who somehow managed to spend $1,641 for a first-class ticket to travel the 200 miles between Washington, D.C., and New York City, The Washington Post reports. In the same week, in June of last year, Pruitt also spent $36,068 to travel from Cincinnati to New York on a military jet, in order to catch a round-trip flight to Rome that cost him $7,003.

The flight to Rome, which can often be found for a few hundred dollars, cost Pruitt "several times what was paid for other officials who went," The Washington Post reports, and the EPA documents "do not explain the discrepancy."

In total, Pruitt and his aides spent some $90,000 in taxpayer dollars on travel during just a few weeks in early June, documents show. Pruitt often justifies flying first or business class, and the EPA rarely releases his schedule, because of unspecified "security concerns." Pruitt additionally has a 24/7 security detail, the cost of which has not been revealed publicly.

Trump's former health secretary, Tom Price, ultimately resigned after racking up $500,000 in charter flights. The Treasury Department inspector general found that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's seven flights on military planes were all legally approved but suggested that the $811,798 cost to taxpayers was poorly justified. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's travels also flagged attention after he chartered an oil executive's private plane, costing taxpayers more than $12,000.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman confirmed to the Post that Pruitt's travel was all approved. "He's trying to further positive environmental outcomes and achieve tangible environmental results," she said. Jeva Lange

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