Things that make you go hmmmm
December 23, 2020

Rosemary Vrablic, a managing director and senior banker in Deutsche Bank's wealth management division, has resigned, effective Dec. 31, Vrablic and Deutsche Bank said Tuesday. Vrablic became President Trump's private banker at the German lender in 2011, at a time when Trump was having difficulties borrowing money due to his history of defaulting on loans. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, already a client of Vrablic's, introduced her to Trump.

"The reasons for Ms. Vrablic's abrupt resignation were not clear," The New York Times reports. But Deutsche Bank in August opened an internal investigation into a real estate deal in which Vrablic and a longtime colleague at the bank, Dominic Scalzi, invested in an apartment building partly owned by Kushner. Scalzi is also resigning at the end of the year.

The status of the internal review is unclear, the Times reports. But the relationship between Trump and Deutsche Bank is the subject of congressional, civil, and criminal investigations, including a criminal inquiry by the Manhattan district attorney. Vrablic is not among the handful of Deutsche Bank employees questioned by New York investigators yet, but her lawyer told CNN that "Ms. Vrablic is committed to cooperating with the authorities if asked."

Deutsche Bank has been exploring how it can end its heavily scrutinized relationship with Trump, Reuters reports. But for Trump, his "key contacts at his biggest financial backer are leaving at a perilous time for the departing president," the Times reports. "He owes Deutsche Bank about $330 million, and the loans come due in 2023 and 2024. Mr. Trump provided a personal guarantee to get the loans, meaning that if he fails to pay them back, the bank can pursue his personal assets." Peter Weber

December 16, 2020

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has clashed with the career employees at the department she has led for the last four years, but she had a request for them in a department-wide meeting Tuesday addressing the shift to the incoming Biden administration. "Let me leave you with this plea: Resist," she said, according to a recording of the virtual meeting obtained by Politico. "Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what's right for students. In everything you do, please put students first — always."

DeVos has blamed agency bureaucrats for getting in the way of her policy initiatives, and "political appointees at the Education Department also sought to investigate and punish career employees who they suspected of leaking information to the press," Politico notes. She told Reason magazine in the fall that the Education Department "has caused more problems than it solved." So it's not clear what kind of "resistance" she hopes those employees put up to President-elect Joe Biden's to-be-named education secretary. The Education Department did not respond to Politico's request for comment on the remark. Peter Weber

November 12, 2020

The Senate Republicans who have not conceded publicly that President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election argue that President Trump has the right to challenge the results in court, or point out that the vote totals haven't been certified yet, or admit they need his voters to show up in Georgia's special Senate elections, or privately acknowledge that they would pay a political price for not humoring Trump's baseless fraud claims. Some say it's best to let the courts swat down the fraud allegations so people who voted for Trump will feel assured the system worked.

But this reason for letting "process run its course" posted by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Thursday is new.

Puerto Rico, of course, doesn't get to vote for president (or send members of Congress to Washington), so it wasn't clear why Cornyn would bring up its uncounted votes. After getting needled for hours on Twitter, he said he wasn't necessarily referring to the presidential race — though he did not explain what other "process" he had in mind. All other major races have been called and the losers conceded.

Cornyn, who won re-election last week, did send more subtle signals that he accepts the results of the election, retweeting two recaps of the Homeland Security Department's cybersecurity agency affirming that "the Nov. 3 election was the most secure in American history" and "there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." Peter Weber

October 29, 2020

In a debate earlier this month, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) was asked if she disagreed with anything President Trump has ever said or done, and she replied with an emphatic "no."

So on Wednesday, WXIA-TV asked Loeffler if she disagreed with Trump's "statements about personally sexually assaulting women." Loeffler replied, "I'm not familiar with that." And when another reporter tried to jog her memory — "He's referring to the Access Hollywood tape" — she shook her head again and said, 'Yeah, no, look, this president is fighting for America," adding that she will always stand by Trump.

In the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential election, The Washington Post published a video from 2005 in which Trump bragged on Access Hollywood about his technique for kissing and grabbing women, including married women. "You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them," he told host Billy Bush on a hot mic. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything," including "grab them by the p---y." The tape made quite a splash in 2016, leading many GOP figures to temporarily disavow their presidential nominee.

Loeffler, a millionaire appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) last year, is trying to win her seat in what's essentially a three-way primary against Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a staunch Trump ally, and Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat who currently leads in the polls. If no candidate hits 50 percent, as expected, the top two will face off in a January runoff election. Peter Weber

July 6, 2020

It's no secret President Trump had a long and friendly relationship with late indicted pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein and his alleged main accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, had ties to many powerful people, as Eric Trump briefly pointed out on Twitter after the FBI arrested Maxwell on Thursday.

There are so many photos of Donald Trump and Maxwell together that Fox News even used one Sunday in a report on the various civil and criminal cases against Maxwell.

Embed from Getty Images

Except they cropped Trump out, as a Twitter user name Scott Croker noticed and Raw Story found on video.

Given the ample space on either side of the photo, it wasn't cropped to fit the screen. But if Fox News was trying to save Trump from embarrassment, it was an odd choice to leave first lady Melania Trump in the photo, especially in such a way it appears she is hanging off Epstein.

UPDATE 3:15 P.M.: Fox News issued the following statement: "Fox News Channel's America's News HQ mistakenly eliminated President Donald Trump from a photo alongside then Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Maxwell. We regret the error." Peter Weber

February 3, 2020

After the State Department revoked the press credentials of NPR's Michele Keleman for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to Europe and Central Asia, in apparent retaliation for questions Pompeo didn't like from NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly, there were concerns about what kind of message Pompeo sent to the world about America's commitment to press freedoms. On Sunday, when Pompeo was in Kazakhstan — which has a dismal zero press-freedoms rating from Reporters Without Borders — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Aigerim Toleukhan asked Pompeo. He said the episode sends "a perfect message about press freedoms."

Pompeo can be heard telling Kelly in their interview that he only wanted to discuss Iran, not Ukraine and whether he stood up for America's former ambassador to Kyiv when President Trump and his allies smeared her. Kelly said after the interview, Pompeo took her into a separate room and berated her at length, using profanities.

Pompeo told Toleukhan he didn't have a "confrontational interview" with Kelly and insisted that reporters "get to ask me any questions, all questions." As for barring Keleman from his trip, Pompeo said he always brings "a big press contingent, but we ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that's simply telling the truth and being honest. And when they'll do that, they get to participate, and if they don't, it's just not appropriate" or even "fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside them." That's when Toleukhan asked about what message that sends to the world, and Pompeo said "a perfect message."

After Kelly told NPR listeners about Pompeo berating her, Pompeo accused her of lying twice, once while "setting up our interview" and again by not honoring her agreement keep their "post-interview conversation" private. Kelly said she never agreed to go off-the-record — it's unclear why she would — and she released emails showing she told Pompeo's staff she intended to ask him about both Iran and Ukraine. Peter Weber

January 21, 2020

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer most famous for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her case against President Trump, was arrested in California last week and transferred over the weekend to New York's federal Manhattan Correctional Center to face charges of extortion and embezzlement, his lawyers told a federal court on Monday. In fact, lawyer Scott Srebnick wrote, Avenatti is being housed, for reasons that are unclear, in the MCC's "Special Housing Unit on the notorious 10-South," the "most secure secure floor in the entire facility," in "a cell reportedly once occupied by El Chapo, on a floor that houses individuals charged with terrorism offenses."

Not only is Avenatti being held in the freezing cell that once housed notorious Mexican drug trafficker and escape artist Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Srebnick said, but he's on 24-hour solitary confinement with a guard and two cameras keeping watch on him from outside his cell 24 hours a day. MCC appears to have learned from the suicide of another recent inmate, Jeffrey Epstein, as Srebnick alludes to in his filing.

Srebnick asked for the court's help in finding out why Avenatti is under such strict lockdown and in getting him moved to regular incarceration amid the general population of MCC, saying the current conditions are hindering Avenatti's participation in his defense case. Peter Weber

November 15, 2019

President Trump's departure for a political rally in Louisiana was delayed by about 45 minutes on Thursday evening because he was having an "animated" conversation with Attorney General William Barr in the Oval Office, according to the White House press corps, which could view but not hear the conversation. Also in the Oval Office were White House Counsel Pat Cippollone and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.

When asked about the meeting on Fox News, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said he "sadly" couldn't say what Trump and Barr discussed, but he told Martha MacCallum "that all the gentlemen had Diet Cokes in the room — that's very serious." When MacCallum asked if they were discussing Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's imminent report on the origins of the FBI's investigation of Russia and Trump's campaign, Gidley insisted Trump is "trying to stay out of all things that Attorney General Barr is doing as it relates to investigating the investigators."

But the Horowitz report did come up in their conversation, two sources told CNN. Barr got a draft of the report last month, and Lawfare's Susan Hennessey wryly suggested that the nominally independent attorney general discussing the nominally independent DOJ inspector general's nominally apolitical report with Trump may not be totally above-board.

Witnesses have been given two weeks to review the parts of the report they feature in before it is released publicly. They have to sign nondisclosure agreements and can't request revisions in writing, The Washington Post reported Thursday, raising concerns about the report's integrity. But Horowitz's office told the Post late Thursday night that witnesses can submit written feedback "consistent with rules to protect classified information." Peter Weber

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