Donald Trump Archives - Page 5 of 258 - Florida Politics

Donald Trump’s labor nominee likely to be asked about Florida case

Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is expected to face questions at his Senate confirmation hearing about an unusual plea deal he oversaw for a billionaire sex offender while U.S. attorney in Miami.

Acosta has won confirmation for federal posts three times previously, but he has never faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill for his time as U.S. attorney.

Critics, including attorneys for some underage victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, say the plea agreement was a “sweetheart deal” made possible only by Epstein’s wealth, connections and high-powered lawyers. Acosta has defended his decisions as the best outcome given evidence available at the time.

“Some may feel that the prosecution should have been tougher. Evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view,” Acosta wrote in a March 2011 letter to media outlets after leaving the U.S. attorney’s office. “Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different. But they were not known to us at the time.”

Senate aides from both parties expect Democrats to raise the case during Acosta’s confirmation hearing Wednesday as an example of him not speaking up for less-powerful people. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Sen. Patty Murray, the leading Democrat on the committee, said in a statement she met with Acosta on Thursday and is concerned about whether he would “stand up to political pressure” and advocate for workers as labor secretary. Unlike Trump’s original choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, Acosta is expected to win confirmation.

The Florida International University law school dean was nominated after Puzder, a fast-food executive, withdrew over his hiring of an undocumented immigrant housekeeper and other issues.

Acosta, 48, has previously won Senate confirmation as Miami U.S. attorney, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the National Labor Relations Board.

He declined comment when asked about the Epstein case this week.

Epstein, now 64, pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida charges of soliciting prostitution and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, of which he served 13 months. Epstein was also required to register as a sex offender and pay millions of dollars in restitution to as many as 40 victims who were between the ages of 13 and 17 when the crimes occurred.

According to court documents, Epstein paid underage girls for sex, sexual massages and similar acts at a Palm Beach mansion he then owned as well as properties in New York, the U.S. Virgin Islands and New Mexico. Prosecutors say he had a team of employees to identify girls as potential targets.

After an investigation by local police, Palm Beach prosecutors decided to charge Epstein with aggravated assault, which would have meant no jail time, no requirement that he register as a sex offender and no guaranteed restitution for victims.

Unhappy local investigators went to Acosta’s office, which opened a federal probe and eventually drafted a proposed 53-page indictment that could have resulted in a sentence of 10 years to life in prison for Epstein, if convicted. With that as leverage, a deal was worked out for Epstein to plead guilty to state prostitution solicitation charges and the federal indictment was shelved.

It didn’t stop there. Epstein’s lawyers worked out an unusual and secret “non-prosecution agreement” to guarantee neither Epstein nor his employees would ever face federal charges.

Well-known Miami defense lawyer Joel DeFabio, who has represented numerous defendants in sex cases, said he had never heard of such an agreement before Epstein’s came to light. DeFabio said he has had clients with far less egregious sex charges — and far less wealth — who were sentenced to 10 or 15 years behind bars. DeFabio tried to use the Epstein case to argue for more lenient sentences.

“There still has been no clear explanation as to why Epstein received such preferential treatment,” DeFabio said. “This thing just stinks. The elite take care of their own.”

The non-prosecution agreement became public in a related civil case, leading two Epstein victims — identified only as Jane Does No. 1 and 2, to file a victims’ rights lawsuit claiming they were improperly left in the dark about the deal. The lawsuit, which is still pending, seeks to reopen the case to expose the details and possibly nullify the agreement.

Other victims have come forward, including one woman who claimed as a teenager that Epstein flew her around the world for sexual escapades, including encounters with Britain’s Prince Andrew. Buckingham Palace has vehemently denied those claims.

The Justice Department’s position in the victims’ rights lawsuit is that since no federal indictment was ever filed, the victims were not entitled to notification about the non-prosecution agreement. Settlement talks last fall went nowhere.

“There will not be a settlement. That case will eventually get to trial,” said Bradley Edwards, attorney for the two Jane Doe victims.

In his 2011 letter, Acosta defended his decisions as the best possible outcome.

“Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence that was known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionaire serve time in jail, register as a sex offender and pay his victims restitution than risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success,” Acosta wrote. “I supported that judgment then, and based on the state of the law as it then stood and the evidence known at the time, I would support that judgment again.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Melania Trump begins to embrace new role as first lady

Melania Trump‘s invitation for high-powered women to join her at the White House was about more than the lunch they would eat, or the stated purpose of honoring International Women’s Day.

It marked a “coming out,” almost two months into President Donald Trump‘s term, for a first lady described by her husband as a “very private person.” She had spent a couple of weeks hunkered down at the family’s midtown Manhattan penthouse while Trump got down to work in Washington. Now, the former model is taking her first steps into her very public new role

Mrs. Trump strode into the State Dining Room for her first solo White House event after an announcer intoned, “Ladies and gentlemen, the first lady of the United States, Melania Trump,” and was greeted by the all-female group of about 50 people, including ambassadors, Cabinet members, at least one U.S. senator and stepdaughter Ivanka Trump.

Mrs. Trump asked guests for suggestions on how best to empower women and girls worldwide, possibly foreshadowing women’s empowerment as an issue she would pursue as first lady. Trump said recently that his wife, who turns 47 next month, feels strongly about “women’s difficulties.”

“I will work alongside you in ensuring that the gender of one’s birth does not determine one’s treatment in society,” she told guests, according to a tweet by a White House official.

The White House allowed a small pool of journalists to watch as guests and the first lady arrived for Wednesday’s lunch, but they were ushered out as Mrs. Trump began to speak. The White House press office promised to distribute text of her prepared remarks after the event, but a transcript has not been released.

In recent weeks, Mrs. Trump helped plan their first big White House social event, an annual, black-tie dinner for the nation’s governors. She followed up with a trip the next day to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate in Virginia, where she was hosted by the governors’ spouses.

The first lady has made other quiet appearances, watching her husband sign legislation and executive orders, and accompanying him to the Capitol for a speech to Congress.

She took her counterparts from Japan and Israel on cultural outings and quickly learned the burden of new scrutiny and protocol when she was criticized for not being at the White House to greet the Japanese prime minister’s wife. Instead, Mrs. Trump met the president and Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for an Air Force One flight to Florida. Trump treated Abe to a weekend at Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Melania Trump then took Akie Abe to tour a nearby Japanese garden.

“We see her physical presence,” said Jean Harris, professor of political science and women’s studies at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

All first ladies go through an adjustment period as they figure out how to handle one of the most unforgiving roles in American political life. Unlike many of Mrs. Trump’s predecessors, who were politically experienced through marriage to governors or members of Congress, she is married to a lifelong businessman who never held elective office until he became president.

Complicating her White House launch is the couple’s decision for the first lady to continue living at Trump Tower until their 10-year-old son, Barron, finishes the school year. She’s not expected to live full time at the White House for at least several more months, leaving Trump largely on his own and without a traditional source of moral support.

Mrs. Trump has also been slow to staff the East Wing of the White House, where the first lady’s office is based. She so far has named only a social secretary and a chief of staff. The president has said he doesn’t want to fill hundreds of government vacancies because they are “unnecessary,” which could include the East Wing.

And the slow pace of building her staff could be complicating operations.

It’s customary for the White House Visitors Office to close temporarily during a change in administration since political appointees do the work. But this year’s shutdown lasted longer than usual, frustrating members of Congress who are responsible for distributing White House public tour tickets to constituents. Tours resumed earlier this week after a more than six-week pause.

Speculation about whether the Trumps would continue the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn had been mounting until they announced this week that it will be held on April 17.

The first lady’s popularity has risen 16 percentage points since the Jan. 20 inauguration, according to recent polling by CNN, climbing to 52 percent, from 36 percent.

Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women,” said the public sees Mrs. Trump as a calming force and as someone who has embraced being a mother.

“She’s really the polar opposite of him,” she said, noting that the first lady barely tweets, unlike her husband’s daily Twitter habit. Mrs. Trump also hadn’t been seen in public for several weeks after the inauguration, whereas the president appears on camera most days of the week.

“I think most people find it endearing that she doesn’t crave the spotlight in a way that he clearly does,” Brower said.

Harris said the public is giving Mrs. Trump “a little bit of a honeymoon period” but predicted the mood will change if she doesn’t move to the White House.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump could be forcing out U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley

President Donald Trump has asked for resignations from 46 U.S. Attorneys appointed by former President Barack Obama, possibly including A. Lee Bentley of the Middle District of Florida.

The Tampa Business Journal contacted multiple sources to see if Bentley had been asked to step aside, but did not get a confirmation as of Friday evening.

Bentley was sworn in to the position just a year ago, and was appointed based on the recommendation of Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. Before becoming U.S. Attorney, Bentley spent 15 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the same district.

The Middle District of Florida is headquartered in Tampa.

U.S. Attorneys generally step aside when the presidential administration changes parties, but the process usually takes place gradually to ensure replacements are lined up for a smooth transition.

Miami U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, also an Obama appointee, announced his resignation last month.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, equated asking for the resignations to an “abrupt firing.”

“Under previous administrations, orderly transitions allowed U.S. Attorneys to leave gradually as their replacements were chosen,” she said. “This was done to protect the independence of our prosecutors and avoid disrupting ongoing federal cases.”

Feinstein said she is “very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

Martin Dyckman: What have we become in the time of Trump?

A young woman who works at a store that we frequent told of a recent experience that haunts my mind, as I hope it will yours.

She and her husband were homebound from a European vacation. As the aircraft waited on the tarmac at Amsterdam’s airport, an announcement told three named passengers to identify themselves to a flight attendant.

Every name, she noted, sounded Middle Eastern.

Each was asked to produce a passport, even though all the passengers had had theirs inspected at least twice before boarding.

A young man near her was one of those singled out. As he stood to retrieve his bag from the overhead bin, she saw that his hands were trembling. She wondered whether he would even be able to handle the bag.

A flight attendant checked the passport and left him alone.

He took his seat, still shaking.

“Are you all right?” she asked him.

“I am an American,” he said. “I was born here.”

So that is what we have come to in the time of Trump.

Concurrently, wire services reported that Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parent who denounced Donald Trump at the Republican convention and challenged him to read the U.S. Constitution, had canceled a speaking engagement in Canada after being told, or so it was said, that “his travel privileges are being reviewed.”

His son, Captain Humayun Khan, was protecting his troops in Iraq when he was killed by a suicide bomber.

“This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad. I have not been given any reason as to why,” Kahn said. The statement did not say who told him about it.

The cancellation was announced on the same day as Trump signed a new travel ban targeting Muslims abroad.

The speech Khan had been scheduled to give in Toronto was on the subject of “tolerance, understanding, unity and the rule of law.”

Khan, a native of Pakistan, has been an American citizen for more than 30 years. There is no legal ground for the government to restrict travel of a citizen who is not accused of crime.

A statement from an unnamed Customs and Border Patrol official, quoted by POLITICO, declined to comment on the specific report but asserted that the agency doesn’t contact travelers in advance of their foreign trips. It hinted, however, that questions might have been raised about Kahn having or having applied for trusted traveler status, which speeds up airport security checks.

We need to know more about this. Was it only a rumor that reached Kahn? Was it a misunderstanding? Or something more sinister?

In any event, it was reasonable for Kahn to be concerned in the time of Trump.

Now imagine, if you will, the terror of that young man aboard the airplane multiplied millions of times by Americans with dark skins or foreign-sounding names now that ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — agents are on a rampage.

It’s about American citizens, not just immigrants who are unauthorized. It’s no longer about targeting only those who commit serious crimes — which they do less frequently than legal residents. It’s about expelling everyone that ICE and its allies in some police agencies can get their hands on. Even Dreamers, those brought here as children, whom a humane president had promised to protect, are being swept up.

There are an estimated 11 million of these vulnerable people, by the way and they are your neighbors. They could be the people who built your house, picked the fruit for your breakfast, and tidied up the hotel room where you last stayed.

Think of our country without them. It will be a different country if Trump has his way, and it won’t be a better one.

The statistics are sobering.

According to a draft paper published in November by the National Bureau of Economic Research, unauthorized immigrants account for about 3 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP). Take that away, and it spells recession.

They represent 18 percent of the workforce in agriculture, 13 percent of construction employment, and 10 percent of the leisure and hospitality sector. They’re particularly significant to the economies of five states: California, Texas, New York, Illinois and, yes, Florida.

The report’s authors, professors at Queens College of the City University of New York, calculated that if their presence were legalized, their contribution to GDP would increase, significantly, to 3.6 percent. It would no longer be easy for unscrupulous employers to exploit them.

“Documented foreign-born workers,” they added, “are about 25 percent more productive … with the same levels of education and experience,” as the undocumented.

Legal workers would not replace most of them. A 2013 North Carolina study noted that “natives prefer almost any labor market outcome … to carrying out menial harvest and planting labor.”

Here, from The New York Times, are some other pertinent facts:

About 60 percent of the 11-million have been here 10 years or more. Many are homeowners. A third of those 15 or older live with at least one child born here, who has citizenship by birth. (Where will the foster care be for so many Trump orphans?) The proportion of the estimated 300,000 with felony records is half the rate of felons in the overall population. Illegal border crossings are declining; a growing number of unauthorized immigrants simply overstayed their visas.

The 11 million are here, for the most part, because America has needed their labor and the taxes they pay. The entire nation collectively turned a willfully blind eye to the underlying illegality, just as it did during Prohibition. Every president before now has tried to reform the situation in a humane way. Only now is one catering to a minority — and they are a minority — who vote their hatreds instead of the religions they profess.

A young citizen trembling on a plane. A prominent naturalized citizen who fears to travel. Parents and children terrified of separation. Business booming for private prisons.

What kind of country have we become?

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Bob Buckhorn says after Donald Trump, voters may not be interested in a ‘guy like him’

On Thursday, Bob Buckhorn explained why he chose not to pursue the Democratic nomination for Florida governor in 2018.

The Tampa mayor’s decision was mainly predicated on two factors: He did not want to be away as his 15-year-old daughter spends her last few years at home, and he loves being Mayor of Tampa more than he could imagine running for statewide office for the next 18 months.

But lurking below that was a realization; if he ran, Florida voters may not be interested in buying what he would be selling next year.

“I would have been running on the fact that I was qualified, that I had managed large institutions, that we had a track record of accomplishments, that we were not particularly partisan, but I don’t know if that really matters anymore,” the mayor told reporters gathered at City Hall Thursday morning.

“I don’t know what the American public is looking for in their elected leadership. It is a disconcerting time in our country, and for those of us who aspire to lead, it’s the most unusual time that I’ve seen in 30 years.”

Of course, Buckhorn was referring to the electoral earthquake leading to Donald Trump winning the presidency last fall over Hillary Clinton, the woman he campaigned hard for both in and outside Florida.

Although the mayor’s decision was expected, over the past few years, his trajectory about being a candidate had evolved.

Based on his successful leadership leading Tampa out of the Great Recession in the last decade — as well as his outsized personality — Buckhorn was a prominent part of the Democratic bench of candidates for statewide office, and had been for several years.

That speculation went into overdrive after he created his own political action committee (One Florida) in December 2014.

And while he won a huge re-election victory in 2015, the rest of the year was troubled, partly due to a negative newspaper report about the Tampa Police Department, which triggered the progressive activist community, demanding the city create a citizen’s review board. It was a proposal Buckhorn initially resisted.

As funding for his PAC began to dry up in 2016, Buckhorn’s gubernatorial aspirations resurfaced locally after he gave a fiery speech this summer to the Florida delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Buckhorn admitted Thursday his thinking about a run for governor “ebbed and flowed” over the past couple of years, something he said was probably the case with all the rumored candidates, except for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, “who has obviously been committed to this from day one.”

“For me this was not an easy choice,” Buckhorn said. “It was not a straight path. There were a lot of things that I have to deal with that a lot of the other candidates don’t.” He specifically mentioned his two teenage daughters and a full-time job as mayor in the Florida’s biggest media market.

“But at the end of the day, family being first, I just didn’t want the job as bad as I wanted to be the mayor,” he said. “And even though I recognize that two years from now I won’t be the mayor, I’m going to finish strong.”

Buckhorn has more than two years left on the job, which is why he was hardly in the mood to get too retrospective about his legacy. While he championed his role in leading what he called “the Tampa Renaissance,” he drew a blank when asked to acknowledge his greatest failing to date, saying only that whatever mistakes he’s made along the way were “not done with malice or ill intent.”

Buckhorn certainly has the ambition to be governor, and he believes it’s vital for a “regime change” in Tallahassee after two decades of Republican rule in both the Governor’s mansion and the state Legislature.

Speculation has been that while a run for governor wasn’t in the cards, Buckhorn could run for chief financial officer, a job with duties that would allow him more time to return to Tampa on a weekly basis. But he said that decision was always about whether to commit for a run for the top spot in state government, not another Cabinet position. That said, he won’t pursue a run for that office.

A disciple of the 1980s Democratic Leadership Council — the same one that spawned Bill Clinton — Buckhorn’s centrism was always an issue for progressives in Tampa and the state.

With other centrist Democrats like Alex Sink, Patrick Murphy and Charlie Crist losing statewide elections in recent years, there is a part of the party that wants to go further left in 2018.

Buckhorn acknowledges that is a fervent part of the base right now, but he insists that’s not the way to go.

“If we continue to run campaigns based on identity politics or cobbling together interest groups, we’re going to lose,” he said flatly. “We’re a Purple state, and my sense is, and I could be wrong, and certainly the party seems to be heading in a different direction than my governing style, is that if we can’t appeal to the middle, we’re never going to be successful in this state.”

The mayor’s most interested in seeing how other Democrats in the race will fare over the course of the next year and a half. He said that the success of Trump does pave a possible path for attorney and Democratic fundraiser John Morgan as a viable wild card in 2018.

“He could potentially be the Democrats Donald Trump in terms of style and his willingness to shake up political and conventional wisdom, ” Buckhorn mused. “I just don’t know what the voters are looking for. I always thought that experience matters, and that credibility matters, and competence matters and a proven track record matters, but I just don’t know anymore.

“Time will tell, as the country rights itself, if a style of a Donald Trump is what Americans are looking for. If that’s the case, a guy like me, you know, they’re not going to be interested.”

 

Repeal and replace — The end of traditional conservatism

As a lifelong Republican and a former Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, I have always preferred voting for the Republican and conservative candidate.

Preferably, the candidate is both Republican and conservative, although that is not always the case.

For only the second time in my life, I did not vote for the Republican presidential nominee:  I found him neither Republican nor conservative. I know there are different strands of conservatism: classical, neo-cons, libertarians, religious and economic conservatives. I found Donald Trump to be none of the above.

Trump did appeal to conservatives by supporting regulatory reform, lower taxes, unleashing the private sector and rolling back the administrative state. At the same time, Trump supported existing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, which he called untouchable, and backed new entitlements like a paid family leave program.

Until the election of Trump, Republicans venerated Ronald Reagan and his brand of conservatism. This included support for free trade, a centerpiece of conservative economic policy. Trump has denounced free trade by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which conservatives uniformly backed. Trump also plans to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which Republicans helped to pass.

Another litmus test for modern conservatism was for America to play a major role in world affairs. Reagan addressed the first Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in 1974 and argued that America “cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so.”

Reagan cited Pope Pius XII’s remarks after World War II that “Into the hands of America, God has placed the destinies of mankind.” Under Trump, American First has become the guiding philosophy.

Republicans and conservatives have generally opposed entitlements and big government. Trump has made Social Security and Medicare untouchable, even though most conservatives believe these programs are not sustainable given the demographic changes in American society.

Trump has called for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, in addition to an expansive family leave policy. How do you pay for these entitlements and increase defense spending while cutting taxes?

Shortly after being elected president, Trump helped negotiate a deal with Carrier in Indiana that promised government benefits to Carrier in exchange for keeping jobs in Indiana. That deal struck many conservatives as another example of “crony capitalism.”

The government picks and chooses winners and losers instead of letting market forces work their will.

Where most presidents have had a shaky relationship with the press, Trump is the first to call the press “enemies of the American public.” Where Reagan called the Soviets the “evil empire,” Trump has praised Vladimir Putin and asserted the moral equivalency between American and Soviet policy.

Trump clearly has flip-flopped back and forth between the Democratic and Republican Party, but has actually spent more time as a Democrat. He only registered as a Republican a couple of years before announcing his candidacy. Trump may or not be a lifetime member of the GOP, but has he held consistent conservative values?  Let’s look at his own words and actions.

At the 2016 CPAC meeting, delegates threatened to walk out if Trump appeared. He was viewed as a false prophet of conservatism and he eventually withdrew as a speaker.

At the 2017 CPAC meeting, Trump was hailed as the conquering hero. A full 86 percent of the delegates approved of Trump’s job performance and 80 percent believed Trump was “realigning the conservative movement.” As presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway observed, “well, I think by tomorrow this might be TPAC.”

During his 48-minute address to the 2017 CPAC delegates, Trump no mention of Reagan, who has been the face of the modern conservative movement for four decades.

Trump made no mention of “liberty” or the “constitution.” Trump made no reference to keeping government small and limited, and only once uttered the word “conservative,” which seemed odd for an audience of conservatives. Trump said: “Our victory was a victory. . . for conservative values.”

The one common thread between Reagan and Trump was their appeal to working-class Americans. In 1977, Reagan told CPAC: “The New Republican Party I am speaking about is going to have room for the man and the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat.”

In his 2017 CPAC address, Trump said: “The GOP will be, from now on, the Party of the American worker. … We will not answer to donors or lobbyists or special interests.” (Although, being a billionaire will be considered an asset for all cabinet nominees.)

One congressional staffer, after hearing Trump’s CPAC speech, called him “a moderate disguised as a conservative.” Conservative radio host John Ziegler described Trump’s CPAC speech as having the tone “it was written from a liberal perspective, in that greater government involvement was the foundational answer for nearly every problem.”

Another delegate described Trump as “a fairly liberal conservative,” whatever that may mean.

If CPAC is any indication, Trump is reshaping the conservative movement at breathtaking speed. Ideology is conforming to an individual, and not vice versa.

“Repeal and Replace” was the centerpiece of Trumpism. We all thought he was referring to “Obamacare.” Now we know that “repeal and replace” referred to conservatism in America.

Traditional conservative values have been abandoned and replaced by whatever Trump happens to say today.

___

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

Fort Lauderdale woman seeks right to trial in Trump University case

A Fort Lauderdale woman asked this week to be excluded from a proposed settlement with President Donald Trump over fraud allegations at his now-defunct Trump University, setting the stage for a possible trial if a federal judge agrees.

Attorneys for Sherri Simpson said in a court filing that lawyers for former students in class-action lawsuits promised in 2015 that they could ask to be excluded from any future settlement. A settlement announced less than two weeks after Trump’s election allows class members to object to the terms, but they can no longer drop out, preventing them from suing on the own.

She described herself as a single mother hoping to improve life for her child — until she was victimized by what she describes as shady practices at Trump University.

“All of it was just a fake,” Simpson said in the ad. “America, do not make the same mistake that I did with Donald Trump. I got hurt badly and I’d hate to see this country get hurt by Donald Trump.”

Monday was the last day for former students to object to the $25 million settlement, which U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel will consider for final approval at a hearing March 30 in San Diego.

Curiel, a target of Trump’s repeated criticism during the presidential campaign, granted preliminary approval to the agreement in December and has said he hoped it would be part of a healing process that the country sorely needed. It settles two class-action lawsuits before Curiel on behalf of about 7,000 former students and a civil lawsuit by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The former students would get at least 50 percent of their money back, according to plaintiff attorneys, who waived their fees to allow for larger payouts.

Simpson’s attorneys said many may be satisfied with the payment and acknowledged it is high under standards for class-action lawsuits but that their client wasn’t prepared to take it.

“What Ms. Simpson seeks is her day in court, at which she will press for the complete vindication of all her rights, including her full damages plus punitive damages and injunctive relief. Due process guarantees her the autonomy to pursue these goals,” her attorneys said.

According to the proposed settlement, former students had until Nov. 16, 2015, to opt out of a future settlement and cannot sue Trump on the same grounds. Thirteen people opted out, but not Simpson.

Jason Forge, an attorney for plaintiffs, said Monday that the former students had been repeatedly informed of the opt-out deadline. “Anyone who chose to give up their individual claim and remain in the class will be rewarded for doing so under the terms of what is (a) historically beneficial settlement,” he said in an email.

The lawsuits allege that Trump University gave nationwide seminars that were like infomercials, constantly pressuring people to spend more and, in the end, failing to deliver on its promises. They contend that Trump misled students by calling the business a university and by saying that he had hand-picked the instructors.

After attending two seminars in Florida in 2010, Simpson enrolled in the “Gold Elite” mentorship program for $35,000.

Attorneys for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump admits no wrongdoing under the proposed settlement.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Could anti-Donald Trump quotes hurt Pat Neal’s chances of becoming CFO?

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump hasn’t been too keen on hiring those associated with the “Never Trump” movement of conservative policy who surfaced in last year’s presidential campaign.

The most glaring example of this is the case of former State Department official Elliott Abrams. A meeting between the two last month reportedly went well, according to CNN. Ultimately, though, Trump opted not to hire Abrams for the Deputy Secretary of State position once he learned that Abrams criticized him during his White House run.

With the in mind, might strong criticism of the President during the campaign turn off Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump’s, specifically when it comes to naming a new Chief Financial Officer?

While there have been a host of names floated as possible contenders (including state Senators Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former interim head of Citizens Property Insurance Tom Grady, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera), Pat Neal, the Manatee County real estate developer and former state lawmaker, is being looked at by many as the top choice to succeed Jeff Atwater.

Atwater announced last month that he would step down as CFO to serve as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University at the end of the Florida Legislature’s regular session in May.

Neal announced last June that he would not be a candidate for the CFO position in 2018, telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he was “dispirited with what I see every morning having to do with the Trump campaign.”

He went on to tell reporter Zac Anderson that he viewed Trump as an incredibly “vulgar” candidate  who “is leading our party off a cliff.”

Neal later told the Times’ Adam Smith: “I, Pat Neal, have never had a bankruptcy, never had a bank default. When you sign a note of bonds, or sell stock with investors the right thing to do is pay them back. Not only did he lose money for people he borrowed from, but for a period there he lost money for his investors, particularly in the casino deals. That isn’t the way you do it, and I would not say he is a credit to the real estate industry.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Scott simply sent the same statement that Scott said when Atwater announced he would be leaving the CFO spot last month.  It was filled with effusive praise for the Palm Beach County Republican, with Scott adding, “The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state, and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

It should be noted that not everyone who has had critical words for Trump has been banned from working with him in his new administration.

Take Rick Perry, Bush’s Secretary of Energy.

On the campaign trail, the former Texas Governor called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” before ultimately endorsing Trump for president calling the the New York City real estate magnate “one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen.”

NASA’s $19.5B plan headed for Donald Trump’s desk

President Donald Trump will get his first chance to signal his vision for space now that both houses of Congress have approved a $19.5 billion bill cosponsored by both Florida senators to continue NASA’s programs.

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved the one-year spending plan late Tuesday, calling for continued support for commercial space companies launching from Kennedy Space Center, continued support for the International Space Station and the first steps in NASA’s planned Journey to Mars.

The U.S. Senate approved the Senate Bill 442 in February, creating the prospect that a NASA budget could be approved and signed for the first time since 2010. It would offer a slight increase over the $19 billion NASA operated under last year. The bill is largely lifted from the one the Senate passed late in the last session, too late to be considered by the House.

The bill is entitled “NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017” but it largely funds a continuation of NASA’s current policies and programs, with some new demands from Congress for clarifications of what NASA wants to do.

The spending plan is largely good news for Florida, authorizing and funding programs that are redefining Kennedy and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as rocket-launching home to a growing private space industry. It also calls for reports from NASA to Congress on how the private sector is doing in taking over lower-Earth orbit space activity.

“This legislation that secures Florida as a key player in future efforts and successes of the aerospace industry and space exploration,” said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, the state’s space industry development corporation.

“This bill reaffirms the framework for sustainability of the space program, further supporting Brevard’s growing government and commercial space companies,” stated Lynda Weatherman, president & CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.

It recommits to NASA’s desire to build a Mars mission in coming decades and provides funding for development of the agency’s Space Launch System super rocket and Orion crew capsule, but also requires NASA to submit a detailed roadmap on exactly what it wants to do in deep space.

That report likely would clarify NASA’s next steps, whether it be the agency’s intended but sharply-criticized plan to visit and perhaps retrieve an asteroid from deep space, or to return to the moon.

“Florida remains an indispensable player on the cutting edge of our nation’s space program,” cosponsor Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio stated in a news release. “This bipartisan legislation will foster innovation, support NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs, improve collaboration between the agency and commercial space sector, and benefit thousands of workers across Florida, particularly at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.”

“This bill marks the beginning of a new era of American spaceflight by explicitly directing NASA to put humans on Mars and helping our commercial space industry continue to grow,” cosponsor Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees NASA, stated in his own news release.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican from Lake County who sits on the House Subcommittee on Space, called the spending vital to national security, international standing, and economic growth and innovation in Florida’s public and private sectors.

“This bill invests in critical research programs and provides policy guidance for future manned space exploration projects,” Webster stated. “The reauthorization received broad bipartisan support, which is a clear indication of the breadth of support that exists for our space program. This is a good first step to make America’s Space Program more successful and reaffirms our commitment to reaching our next frontier – a manned mission to mars.”

Added U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic member of the House Subcommittee on Space:

“This is an important bill that deserved overwhelming bipartisan support – charting a path to new horizons for our nation’s space program. When NASA and the aerospace industry wins, Florida is a beneficiary, growing our state’s innovation capacity and economy.”

Second poll pitting Bill Nelson and Rick Scott head-to-head gives Democrat the advantage, again

Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t announced he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2018, but a new survey shows he’s already trailing in the polls.

A poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Research shows Sen. Bill Nelson holds a five-point lead over Scott, who is widely believed to be mulling a 2018 U.S. Senate bid. Statewide, the Orlando Democrat leads Scott 46 to 41 percent, with 13 percent of respondents saying they were undecided.

The poll was first reported by POLITICO Florida.

The poll found Nelson has a big lead in Southeast Florida, where 60 percent of voters said they backed Nelson, compared to 24 percent who picked Scott. He also leads in the Tampa Bay region, 47 to 40 percent.

Scott is favored in North Florida, 56 percent to Nelson’s 34 percent. And the Naples Republican has a big lead Southwest Florida, his home turf, where 52 percent of voters backed Scott, compared to 37 percent who picked Nelson.

The poll of 625 registered Florida voters was conducted from Feb. 24 through Feb. 28. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Pollsters noted the outcome of the race would “likely be shaped by the political fortunes of President Donald Trump.” While Republican carried the state by one percentage point, his “personal popularity has slipped into slightly negative territory.”

“He was elected on a change message and swing voters, who have shown they are less interested in the circus, bought into his agenda. How they still feel about that agenda and his success or failure implementing it is going to be a very important factor in 2018,” according to the polling memo. “Given the narrow margin that he carried the state by, he doesn’t have much room for error in Florida.”

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