Donald Trump Archives - Page 2 of 258 - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson, bipartisan Florida Congress members urge drilling ban in Gulf

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has pulled together a bipartisan group of Florida congressmen to sign a letter urging the administration of President Donald Trump to not permit off-shore oil near Florida’s Gulf Coast.

In a letter sent Friday to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Nelson and 16 members of Florida’s congressional delegation urged the administration to maintain the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least the next five years.

Joining Nelson were Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Daniel Webster; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

Earlier this month, the administration announced it intended to keep the moratorium in place until at least 2022, but recent reports suggest that the administration may be considering a new plan, Nelson’s office reported in a news release Friday morning.

“It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.

“Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there,” the letter continues.

In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act, which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The letter notes the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that killed 11 men, damaged the marine life ecosystem, and soiled an entire tourism season for Gulf states.

“This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores,” the later states.

Darryl Paulson: Do universities discriminate? Promoting ideological diversity, free speech in U.S. universities

In the previous three pieces, I have written about how university hiring policies have led to the virtual exclusion of conservatives on college faculties. We have seen how universities have wrapped students in a protective cocoon to prevent them from hearing speech that might be offensive with the use of speech codes, safe spaces, and micro-aggressions. Finally, we have seen how the academy has abandoned its mission of exposing students to diverse views and it some cases has actually encouraged students to shout down speakers with unpopular views.

Can anything be done to encourage universities to fulfill their mission of fostering diversity in all areas, including ideological diversity? This will not be easy, especially in the age of Trump. Liberal college campuses are more likely to dig in their heels and protect the academy from the evils of Trumpism. The situation will probably grow worse, not better in most campuses.

We need to foster ideological diversity for the same reasons we need racial and gender diversity. Universities should reflect the communities they represent, and this is clearly not the case today.

Former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell argued in a 1978 case that diversity was essential to a universities mission. The more diverse the faculty and student body, the more robust will be the exchange of ideas.

Yale University law professor Peter Schuck, in his book Diversity in America, contends that faculty have a “higher responsibility to our standards, ourselves and our disciplines that our preferences for ideological homogeneity and faculty-lounge echo chambers betray.”

Echoing that sentiment, John McGinnis of Northwestern Law School writes that “liberal ideas might well be strengthened and made more effective if liberals had to run a more conservative gauntlet among their own colleagues when developing them.”

The growing conservative attack on higher education by state legislators should come as no surprise. Decades of liberal orthodoxy have led conservative legislators to cut university funding and impose more programmatic controls. Why would any group provide financial support to another institution that constantly demeans conservative ideas and values and refuses to hire them on their faculty?

It is in the best interest of universities to improve ideological diversity for two primary reasons: it is the right thing to do, and the university will reap financial benefits.

Approaches to ideological Diversity

Some universities, including Harvard, Penn State, the University of Texas and others have adopted “conservative coming out days.” I am not sure if this means that faculty who have not come out as conservatives should declare their philosophy, or that universities should seek out conservative faculty through affirmative action. Most conservatives would reject an affirmative action approach.

Other universities are showcasing their commitment to ideological diversity by creating a specific faculty line for conservatives. The University of Colorado created an endowed chair in Conservative Thought and Policy.

One or two conservative hires hardly indicates a commitment to a diversified faculty. I am not sure that any faculty member wants to be viewed as the “conservative hire.” Will students and faculty come to his or her office to see what a conservative looks like?

Some conservatives have pushed for the adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) created by conservative activist David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The Bill of Rights contains eight provisions relating to faculty recruitment and hiring, free speech, research and campus speakers.

A number of state legislatures have adopted the Academic Bill of Rights over the opposition of the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers and several other groups. Critics argue that ABOR “infringes academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it.”

Money, or the lack of money, is the lifeblood of a university. Some conservatives have urged alumna should withhold financial support for their university until it supports ideological diversity.

Universities must end their policies of Groupthink which excludes conservative students and faculty from meaningful participation in university life. Speech codes and safe spaces must end, as well as the coddling of easily offended students. Safe places do not foster education, but create an unreal scenario of what students will face in the real world.

Too often, universities have smothered free speech rather than fostering it. When students demand safe places, they often mean I disagree with your ideas, so shut up!

Too often, universities have become home to Orwellian offices such as the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. That is fine for groups and ideas that have the universities seal of approval, but it often means the “not welcome” sign is posted for unpopular and undesirable groups.

The election of Donald Trump has led to a surge in the sale of George Orwell’s 1984. New print runs have occurred to keep up with the growing demand for the book. I would just remind readers that Orwell’s book was not directed at any specific individual or philosophy, but at authoritarianism in all of its forms.

The clash of ideas is the real mission of a university. How can the clash of ideas be heard if not all of the parties are allowed to express their views? How can universities promote diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation, but neglect ideological diversity?

Ideological diversity will benefit the university intellectually, as well as financially. We must end the ideological homogeneity that dominates higher education and put an end to what Orwell called “smelly little orthodoxies.”

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

White House, in gamble, demands make-or-break health vote

Abandoning negotiations, President Donald Trump demanded a make-or-break vote on health care legislation in the House, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if Friday’s vote fails.

The risky move, part gamble and part threat, was presented to GOP lawmakers behind closed doors Thursday night after a long and intense day that saw a planned vote on the health care bill scrapped as the legislation remained short of votes amid cascading negotiations among conservative lawmakers, moderates and others.

At the end of it the president had had enough and was ready to vote and move on, whatever the result, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers.

“‘Negotiations are over, we’d like to vote tomorrow and let’s get this done for the American people.’ That was it,” Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said as he left the meeting, summarizing Mulvaney’s message to lawmakers.

“Let’s vote,” White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said as he walked out.

“For seven and a half years we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families, and tomorrow we’re proceeding,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, then walked off without answering as reporters demanded to know whether the bill had the votes to pass.

The outcome of Friday’s vote was impossible to predict. Both conservative and moderate lawmakers had claimed the bill lacked votes after a long day of talks. But the White House appeared ready to gamble that the prospect of failing to repeal former President Barack Obama‘s health law, after seven years of promising to do exactly that, would force lawmakers into the “yes” column.

“It’s done tomorrow. Or ‘Obamacare’ stays,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a top Trump ally in the House.

Collins was among those predicting success Friday, but others didn’t hide their anxiety about the outcome.

Asked whether Republicans would be unified on Friday’s vote, freshman Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “I sure hope so, or we’ll have the opportunity to watch a unified Democratic caucus impeach Donald Trump in two years when we lose the majority.”

Thursday’s maneuvers added up to high drama on Capitol Hill, but Friday promised even more suspense with the prospect of leadership putting a major bill on the floor uncertain about whether it would pass or fail.

The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the Obama statute had expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.

The measure would also block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, another stumbling block for GOP moderates.

In a concession to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members have withheld support, the legislation would repeal requirements for insurers to cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care and substance abuse treatment.

The drama unfolded seven years to the day after Obama signed his landmark law, an anniversary GOP leaders meant to celebrate with a vote to undo the divisive legislation. “Obamacare” gave birth to the tea party movement and helped Republicans win and keep control of Congress and then take the White House.

Instead, as GOP leaders were forced to delay the vote Thursday, C-SPAN filled up the time playing footage of Obama signing the Affordable Care Act.

“In the final analysis, this bill falls short,” GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state said in a statement Thursday as she became the latest rank-and-file Republican, normally loyal to leadership, to declare her opposition. “The difficulties this bill would create for millions of children were left unaddressed,” she said, citing the unraveling of Medicaid.

In a danger sign for Republicans, a Quinnipiac University poll found that people disapprove of the GOP legislation by 56 percent to 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided. Trump’s handling of health care was viewed unfavorably by 6 in 10.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who as speaker was Obama’s crucial lieutenant in passing the Democratic bill in the first place, couldn’t resist a dig at the GOP disarray.

“You may be a great negotiator,” she said of Trump. “Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready.”

Obama declared in a statement that “America is stronger” because of the current law and said Democrats must make sure “any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans.” Trump tweeted to supporters, “Go with our plan! Call your Rep & let them know.”

Unlike Obama and Pelosi when they passed Obamacare, the Republicans had failed to build an outside constituency or coalition to support their bill. Instead, medical professionals, doctors and hospitals — major employers in some districts — as well as the AARP and other influential consumer groups were nearly unanimously opposed. So were outside conservative groups who argued the bill didn’t go far enough. The Chamber of Commerce was in favor.

Moderates were given pause by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In an updated analysis Thursday, the CBO said late changes to the bill meant to win over reluctant lawmakers would cut beneficial deficit reduction in half, while failing to cover more people.

And, House members were mindful that the bill, even if passed by the House, faces a tough climb in the Senate.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

American Bridge slams Mario Diaz-Balart for ‘selling out’ to support GOP health care plan

(Update – The House of Representatives has announced that there will be no vote tonight on the GOP health care plan).

In the hours left before Congress’ scheduled vote on the American Health Care Act, President Donald Trump and GOP House leadership were doing whatever it took to get the 216 votes necessary for passage of the bill.

In the case of Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, could change in U.S. policy toward Cuba implemented under the Obama administration be the catalyst to lock in his support?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart sought assurances from White House officials that the president would maintain his campaign pledge to reverse Obama’s recognition of diplomatic ties with the Raul Castro-led Cuban government.

Diaz-Balart supported the health care plan in the Budget Committee last week, which narrowly passed on a 19-17 vote. A White House official said there was no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

The bill has already been changed to get additional GOP support.

The Times reported in that same story that New York Republican Claudia Tenney said she was likely to support the bill after House leaders added a section that would shift Medicaid costs from New York’s counties to the state government.

The horse trading brings back memories of when the shoe was on the other foot eight years ago, when Barack Obama and congressional Democrats were doing everything in their power to get enough buy-in from Senate Democrats to back the Affordable Care Act in late 2009.

First, there was the $300 million increase for Medicaid in Louisiana designed to win the vote of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in what was derisively referred to as the “Louisiana Purchase.”

Next came the infamous “Cornhusker kickback” to get Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson’s vote. That involved giving Nebraska a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion. That meant federal taxpayers would have had to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade (a provision ultimately removed from the bill).

There was also “Gator-aide,” the label given to the request from Florida Sen. Bill Nelson for the Senate version of the ACA. That included a formula for protecting certain Medicare Advantage enrollees from facing what could be billions in cuts. The formula would only apply to five states, most notably Florida, where 800,000 of the state’s 1 million Medicare Advantage enrollees would be exempted from cuts.

Referring to the Times story, Shripal Shah, vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, took a swipe at Diaz-Balart.

Shah said: “No matter what his justification, here are the facts: Congressman DiazBalart is selling out millions of Americans in order to cut billions in taxes for a few millionaires, and this bill might not have even be alive today had it not been for his vote in committee. The White House may have been able to buy his vote, but the public is going to hold him accountable.”

Katrina Valdes, the Communications Director for Congressman Diaz-Balart, sent out this statement that he made last week.

“My committee vote does not mean I will support final passage of this legislation as it presently reads. I have clearly stated that I have some serious concerns with the bill in its current form. This isn’t the end of the road, but rather, one step of a long process that will include conference with the Senate.”

“Congressman Diaz-Balart remains in negotiations with House leadership and his colleagues about multiple aspects of the bill,” says Valdes.

House Freedom Caucus chairman says there’s ‘no deal’ on the GOP health care legislation after White House meeting

The Latest on the upcoming health care vote in the House (all times local):

1:35 p.m.

The chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus says there’s “no deal” on the GOP health care legislation after a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump.

The assertion from Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina throws plans for a vote on the bill later Thursday into doubt.

Two dozen or so Freedom Caucus members have opposed the legislation pushed by GOP leaders, saying it doesn’t go far enough to repeal “Obamacare.”

But the group had been negotiating directly with the White House in hopes of reaching agreement to eliminate additional requirements on insurers.

Without a deal with the Freedom Caucus, and with moderate-leaning members defecting, it seems unlikely GOP leaders will have the votes they need to go forward with a vote later Thursday as they had planned.

___

10:06 a.m.

Former President Barack Obama is celebrating the seventh anniversary of his landmark health care law, saying in a statement on Thursday that “America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act.”

Obama does not directly address GOP efforts to repeal his law, which are coming to a head Thursday as House leaders push toward a vote on their repeal legislation. Republicans remain short of votes.

The former president does say that if Republicans are serious about lowering costs and expanding coverage, and are prepared to work with Democrats, “That’s something we all should welcome.”

But, Obama says, “we should start from the baseline that any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans.”

He notes 20 million Americans gained coverage under his law.

___

9:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is urging people to call their lawmakers to express support for the Republican legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

Trump posted a video on Twitter Thursday asking people to get behind the plan. He says that people were “given many lies” about the Affordable Care Act.

Trump added that the legislation was “terrific” and “you’re going to be very, very happy.”

The GOP legislation was on the brink hours before Republican leaders planned to put it on the House floor for a showdown vote. Trump was spending the final hours trying to close the deal with conservatives who have opposed the plan.

___

9:00 a.m.

The GOP’s long-promised legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare” stands on the brink, just hours before Republican leaders planned to put it on the House floor for a showdown vote.

The stakes are high, and Republicans are staring at the possibility of a failure that would throw prospects for their other legislative goals into uncertainty. Speaking to members of the conservative Freedom Caucus mid-day Thursday, Trump is pitching concessions to representatives who want to limit the requirement for health plans to include benefits including substance abuse and maternity care. But those changes appear to be scaring off at least some moderate Republicans.

In a count by The Associated Press, at least 26 Republicans say they opposed the bill, enough to narrowly defeat the measure.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

White House distances Donald Trump from Paul Manafort after AP report

The White House is distancing itself from former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying his secret work for a Russian billionaire detailed in an Associated Press report happened during “the last decade.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says nothing in Wednesday’s AP report references any action by the president, the White House or any Trump administration official.

Spicer says Trump was not aware of Manafort’s clients from the past decade and there are “no suggestions” Manafort did anything improper.

Spicer also says former presidential rival Hillary Clinton had her own Russia ties. He says Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of a Russian-based energy company and Hillary Clinton was “the face of a failed Russia reset policy.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Francis Rooney says Everglades doesn’t need a task force right now

Florida’s Congressional delegation is united in its position urging President Donald Trump to fully fund Everglades restoration and to do so quickly – but a small schism has opened between Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Francis Rooney over whether there needs to be another task force.

Last week Mast, of Palm City, and and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg wrote to Trump, and got 16 of the other Florida’s 25 House members to co-sign, urging the president to fully and quickly fund Everglades restoration efforts, and included a call that Mast has made earlier, for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make sure it is a priority.

Some members of Florida’s delegation said they didn’t sign because last week was a busy week and they didn’t get the chance; but Rooney, whose Naples-based Congressional District 19 includes a good chunk of the Everglades and related areas, said he declined, because he thinks the last thing the Everglades needs right now is another task force.

“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney said. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.

“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do, to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized,” Rooney added.

A Feb. 3 Rooney letter to Trump garnered all 27 signatures urging the president to fully fund the Everglades. “In your Inaugural Speech, you mdd clear that infrastructure is a priority of Your Administration. We applaud your desire to work on this issue, and we invite you to look at the incredible work being done by the Everglades federal/state partnership,” that letter opened. “We are especially encouraged by your comments at the Collier County Fairgrounds on October 23, 2016, when you said, “A Trump Administration will work alongside you to protect and restore the beautiful Florida Everglades.

“As you prepare your budget for Fiscal Year 2018, we request that you strongly support Everglades restoration projects,” it continued.

Rooney is running the long game, inviting and hosting key congressional leaders on Everglades projects tours. Last weekend he took U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, the California Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, on helicopter, car and airboat tours, showing him what’s being done, what still needs to be done, and what needs funding.

Rooney said he is also lining up similar tours for Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson of Idaho, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Kevin McCarthy of California, who all hold key leadership roles.

 

Former Homeland Security chief: Donald Trump has ability to be ‘great’ leader

America’s former domestic security chief believes Donald Trump may have the makings of a historic leader.

In an MSNBC interview Wednesday, previous U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Trump could be a “great president.”

However, Johnson expressed concern over the president’s affinity for social media and worried he didn’t have a full staff in place yet to appropriately advise him on matters of national security.

“I actually believe Donald Trump has the potential to be a great president in sort of the ‘Nixon goes to China’ way or ‘Reagan goes to the Soviet Union’ way,” Johnson told host Willie Geist on MSNBC’s show, ‘Morning Joe.’ “If he can find a way to rein in some of — some of the more unhealthy impulses, listen to his staff, bring on a full complement of political appointees, who will help him govern.”

He continued: “And I’m very concerned about the tweets, obviously. And very concerned about the direction we’re taking in a lot of — in a lot of national security areas.”

In an exclusive interview with the TV cable-news network, Johnson also addressed the recent ban on devices larger than cell phones on flights emanating from more than a dozen Muslim countries to the U.S., enacted by DHS and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

”It’s a little unfair in this context to refer to this as a ban on electronics coming from Muslim-majority countries,” he said. “We look at where the direct flights are coming from, we look at the security around the airports, and we make the appropriate judgments. And this judgment was almost certainly a judgment made at the TSA, DHS, Intelligence Community level.”

The move has been viewed as a controversial and is being challenged.

Paul Manafort had plan to benefit Vladamir Putin government

President Donald Trump‘s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort’s ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.

In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”

“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia’s political interests.”

Deripaska became one of Russia’s wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin’s interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.” In response to questions about Manafort’s consulting firm, a spokesman for Deripaska in 2008 — at least three years after they began working together — said Deripaska had never hired the firm. Another Deripaska spokesman in Moscow last week declined to answer AP’s questions.

Manafort worked as Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party.

The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin’s interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort’s work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of Manafort’s work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there. The Moscow office never opened.

Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have ever been filed in the case.

FBI Director James Comey, in confirming to Congress the federal intelligence investigation this week, declined to say whether Manafort was a target. Manafort’s name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine. No one mentioned Deripaska.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign, even though as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman he led it during the crucial run-up to the Republican National Convention.

Manafort and his associates remain in Trump’s orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump’s inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.

Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort’s firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska, but he was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort’s firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump’s presidential campaign.

Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 that he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department,” according to the documents. He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” but he did not identify the firm. Manafort also said he was employing unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.

Deripaska owns Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide in the agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing industries, and he runs one of the world’s largest aluminum companies. Forbes estimated his net worth at $5.2 billion. How much Deripaska paid Manafort in total is not clear, but people familiar with the relationship said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars and continued through at least 2009. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly.

In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building “long-term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.

Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.

For the $10 million contract, Manafort did not use his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort. Instead, he used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address of his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV’s address was listed as Manafort’s home, also in Alexandria. Manafort sold the home in July 2015 for $1.4 million. He now owns an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, as well as other properties in Florida and New York.

One strategy memo to Deripaska was written by Manafort and Rick Davis, his business partner at the time. In written responses to the AP, Davis said he did not know that his firm had proposed a plan to covertly promote the interests of the Russian government.

Davis said he believes Manafort used his name without his permission on the strategy memo. “My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described,” Davis said. He took a leave of absence from the firm in late 2006 to work on John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign.

Manafort’s work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.

Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ben Pollara: Medical marijuana implementation for the 29, 48 … or 71 percent?

Ben Pollara

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues claims to have polled Floridians on whether they want marijuana legalized.

They do not.

Undisclosed interests hired a political consultant, who then hired Donald Trump‘s pollster to ask the same question.

They got the same answer: 48 percent oppose legalization, while 46 percent support it.

I have two questions that don’t necessitate public opinion research to answer:

– Who cares?

– Why are we even talking about this?

Medical marijuana has now twice been before Florida voters. In 2014, it garnered a substantial majority of 58 percent, albeit not enough to pass.

Two years later, 71 percent of Floridians voted “yes,” placing Article X, Section 29, “Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” in our state’s constitution.

In both campaigns, opponents argued that medical marijuana was merely a ruse – “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” was a favorite metaphor – for recreational marijuana.

That cynical argument – that voters tricked into something they didn’t want – ultimately lost, and badly. Voters were smarter than opponents gave them credit for, and In November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana.

So why is the Majority Leader still parroting the talking points of Mel and Betty Sembler? Why is his implementing legislation seemingly written for the less than 29 percent who voted “no,” rather than the super-majority who put this law into our Constitution?

Florida for Care, which I lead, has been for almost three years educating and advocating Floridians your Wednesday thread for reasonable, responsible medical marijuana legislation in Tallahassee. That is and has always been our only scope.

As such, it is extraordinarily frustrating, and more than a little insulting, to even be engaging in these conversations about legalization. But I’m just an advocate. It is exponentially more hair-pullingly vexing for sick and suffering patients, who have been waiting desperately for medical marijuana, to see their concerns cast aside for a debate that is neither here nor there.

Legislators talk from both sides of their mouth when they claim in one breath not to be able to adjudicate voters’ intent when implementing medical marijuana, and in the next cite polling data on legalization to interpret that same purpose.

Here’s what I believe the voters’ intent was in passing Amendment 2: they wanted to legalize medical marijuana in Florida like had been done in two dozen states prior, and unlike the existing, overly restrictive, low-THC cannabis statute that had been on the books for nearly two years before the election.

It doesn’t take a psychic or a statewide poll to determine that the 71 percent vote was a vote for a broader medical marijuana law, or that it was a message that the existing laws were simply not good enough.

All the Senate proposals have built upon existing law (except for Jeff Brandes‘ “repeal and replace” bill, which starts anew), in an attempt to fulfill that voter mandate and respect the Constitution. Rodrigues’ House bill restricts medical marijuana even further than the existing statute.

It is both a truism and cliche in politics that, “the only poll that matters is Election Day.”

We had an election on medical marijuana. Two, actually.

The “only poll that matters” came down firmly for medical marijuana.

Almost every week since December, I’ve left my wife and two young children in Miami so I could be in Tallahassee, advocating for the implementation of this law.

I only wish the House actually wanted to talk about it, instead of debating an issue that has neither a popular, nor constitutional, imperative.

___

Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons