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May 23, 2018

Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy has subpoenaed The Associated Press over hacked emails it obtained about his apparently successful efforts to sour President Trump on Qatar while Broidy and a partner, George Nader, solicited business with Qatar's Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to the emails, Broidy met with Trump about Qatar on Dec. 2, 2017, and a few days later, the UAE awarded Broidy a five-year, $600 million intelligence contract.

Oddly, on Nov. 30, 2017, as New York's Paul Campos points out, Broidy wired $200,000 to a law firm that transferred it to a lawyer representing former Playboy model Shera Bechard (and also Stormy Daniels), the first installment of a $1.6 million hush agreement he had reached with Bechard through his lawyer in this one case, Michael Cohen. When The Wall Street Journal confronted Broidy about the payment in April, he readily confessed to an extramarital affair with Bechard that ended in pregnancy and an abortion. On Tuesday night, MSNBC's Chris Hayes explained some other strange coincidences.

Two weeks ago, Campos laid out a detailed circumstantial case that it was Trump, not Broidy, who had an affair with Bechard. "If it's difficult to imagine Broidy being willing to take the fall for Trump's affair with Bechard and then paying her a seven-figure sum, it's much simpler to imagine it simply as a perfectly timed and fantastically profitable bribe," Campos wrote Tuesday.

"If I had to guess, I'd say that Cohen, as usual, got the job of dealing with Bechard's demands," Kevin Drum speculated at Mother Jones. "But he didn't want the money to come from Trump, even under a phony name, now that Robert Mueller was scouring every inch of Trump's business. Somehow this reached Broidy's ears — he and Cohen were both deputy finance chairs of the RNC at the time — and he offered to help." We may never know if this is true," he adds, "but it seems pretty plausible." Peter Weber

May 2, 2018

At an event Tuesday afternoon in Tempe, Arizona, hosted by America First Policies, a group led by controversial former Trump administration official Carl Higbie that promotes President Trump's agenda, Vice President Mike Pence had a special shout-out for a "favorite" member of the audience. "A great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law," Pence said, "Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I'm honored to have you here."

A federal judge ruled Arpaio in criminal contempt of court last year, after Arpaio had already lost his bid for re-election as Maricopa County sheriff, and she refused to vacate his conviction even after President Trump controversially pardoned him. Arpaio is running for an open U.S. Senate seat, fringe views and all, and if he wins the August primary, "you can kiss goodbye to that seat if you are a Republican," poll-watcher Harry Enten tweeted. "What is Mike Pence doing?!" That was one of the kinder reactions. You can get a sense of the broad repulsion at Arpaio's history in this brief thread from conservative columnist Bethany Mandel.

But he was clearly a star among the Trump fans in Tempe, so at least Pence knew his audience — assuming the comment wasn't for an audience of one back in Washington. Peter Weber

March 22, 2018
Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

George Nader, a political adviser to the crown prince leading the United Arab Emirates and a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, has spent the past year working with the Republican National Committee's deputy finance chairman to steer President Trump's Middle East policy and oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, The New York Times reports, citing interviews and newly disclosed documents.

Nader and Elliot Broidy, a longtime GOP fundraiser, used their influence and contacts in Trump's White House to "cultivate" Trump on behalf of the UAE and Saudi Crown Prince (and self-proclaimed Jared Kushner puppet-master) Mohammed bin Salman, and against Iran and Qatar, the Times says, adding: "Tillerson was fired last week, and the president has adopted tough approaches toward both Iran and Qatar." The two men — Nader, 58, and Broidy, 60 — met during Trump's inaugural festivities and "became fast friends," and Nader didn't come to the friendship empty-handed, the Times explains:

Nader tempted ... Broidy with the prospect of more than $1 billion in contracts for his private security company, Circinus, and he helped deliver deals worth more than $200 million with the United Arab Emirates. He also flattered Mr. Broidy about "how well you handle Chairman," a reference to Mr. Trump, and repeated to his well-connected friend that he told the effective rulers of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE about "the Pivotal Indispensable Magical Role you are playing to help them." [The New York Times]

In return, Broidy told Nader he personally pushed Trump in October to fire Tillerson, seen by the Saudis and Emiratis as insufficiently hardline on Iran and Qatar, and urged Trump to meet with the UAE crown prince in a "quiet" place outside the White House — a request blocked by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Broidy reported. Nader was met by Mueller's agents in February en route to meet Trump at Mar-a-Lago, an invitation wrangled by Broidy. You can read more about the tangled web at The New York Times. Peter Weber

March 7, 2018

On the one hand, it's nice that President Trump's budget chief and his chief economic adviser overcame their ideological differences to become friendly, as self-proclaimed "right-wing conservative" Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), suggested in his farewell statement to Gary Cohn, the outgoing head of Trump's National Economic Council. On the other hand, calling Cohn a "globalist" leaves the message with kind of an acrid aftertaste.

Cohn is Jewish, and "the term 'globalist' has also been used as an anti-Semitic dog whistle and echoes pernicious anti-Jewish conspiracy theories," explains Ben Sales at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "For the far right, globalism has long had distinct xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic overtones," adds Liam Stack at his "glossary of extremist language" in The New York Times. "It refers to a conspiratorial worldview: a cabal that likes open borders, diversity, and weak nation states, and that dislikes white people, Christianity, and the traditional culture of their own country."

But the alt-right slur "isn't entirely about anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering," says Andrew Prokop at Vox. "There are real underlying policy differences at play here." Which, of course, is what Mulvaney must have been talking about. Still, if Mulvaney had wanted to show his appreciation, maybe he should have just chipped in a few extra bucks to Cohn's farewell gift card. Peter Weber

March 5, 2018
Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Since December 2016, Congress has given the State Department $120 million to counter foreign attempts to hijack U.S. elections and sow distrust in American democracy, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has spent none of that money, The New York Times reports. "As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department's Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow's disinformation campaign — speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts."

Tillerson, who's been "focusing his energies instead on drastically shrinking the department," spent seven months thinking about whether he even wanted to spend the original $60 million Congress set aside to coordinate a government-wide response to anti-democracy propaganda from Russia and China, the Times reports, and when the State Department finally sent over its request in September, "with just days left in the fiscal year, Pentagon officials decided that the State Department had lost its shot at the money." After months of haggling, the State Department said last week it will take $40 million from this fiscal year's $60 million allotment, and it expects the Pentagon to transfer the funds in April, half a year before the midterms.

The Global Engagement Center currently toils to counter jihadist and extremist propaganda, and its 23 analysts speak Arabic, Urdu, French, and Somali. The Trump administration has "the vehicle to do this work in the center," James Glassman, the State Department's under secretary for public diplomacy, tells the Times. "What they don't have is a secretary of state or a president who's interested in doing this work." You can read more about the holdup and Tillerson's role in it at The New York Times. Peter Weber

March 2, 2018

One of the battles reportedly raging inside the chaotic White House is between Chief of Staff John Kelly and President Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. "Javanka and Kelly are locked in a death match," a White House official told Axios, using Stephen Bannon's celebrity couple name for Trump's senior advisers/children. "Two enter. Only one survives."

Ivanka Trump and Kushner "have been frustrated by Kelly's attempt to restrict their access to the president, and they perceive his new crackdown on clearances as a direct shot at them," The Associated Press reports, citing White House aides and outside advisers, and the frustration is apparently mutual: Kelly "blames them for changing Trump's mind at the last minute and questions what exactly they do all day, according to one White House official and an outside ally."

To be fair, Kushner has been put in charge of solving a monstrous heap of issues, but is mostly supposed to focus on forging Israeli-Palestinian peace, while Ivanka has been known to represent her father at international conferences and the Olympics, as well as push for tax cuts for parents of young children. "Allies of Kushner and Ivanka Trump insist they have no plans to leave the White House in the near future," AP notes, but Kelly's continued tenure is an open question. "The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security," Kelly said Thursday, at the Homeland Security Department's 15th birthday celebration. "But I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess."

You have to watch Kelly's eye roll for the quote to really hit home. Peter Weber

February 16, 2018
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Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush bought a $1.5 million mansion in a tony Austin enclave with an $850,000 loan from a bank owned by a major donor who recently employed his wife, Amanda Bush — and "for all practical purposes, it is a secret mansion," reports Jay Root at The Texas Tribune. The 4,000-square-foot gated house is legally owned by a family trust that doesn't include the Bush name, and neither the trust nor the $850,000 loan were disclosed on the personal financial statements Bush has to file to run for office in Texas. George P. Bush is Jeb Bush's eldest son and apparently the lone member of the Bush clan who unabashedly supports President Trump.

George and Amanda Bush are the creators and the beneficiaries of the trust, Bush's campaign said. Under Texas ethics laws, candidates have to disclose a "beneficial interest" in real estate and note any loans of more than $1,000, but the Texas Ethics Commission said it hasn't dealt yet with the Bush "secret mansion" scenario. Bush political director Ash Wright told the Tribune that its reporting is "another absurd fake news story from the liberal media" and explained that "for security reasons, the commissioner used a trust to buy the house to protect his family's address from being publicly listed," citing "death threats."

Root noted that people with military backgrounds like Bush can request that their names be left off county tax rolls by just checking a box on a simple form — which the Bushes did for a rental property, even though the exemption is, by law, only available for a home address. "After the Tribune inquired under freedom of information laws why the rental property's ownership had been deemed confidential," Root says, "the appraisal district abruptly informed Amanda Bush on Feb. 7 that it would rescind the exemption she had applied for — and got — a little over two years ago." Peter Weber

January 10, 2018

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he is opening 90 percent of the nation's oil and gas offshore reserves to development, but on Tuesday he said he had taken Florida "off the table," both its Gulf and Atlantic coasts. "Florida is obviously unique," he said after a brief meeting with Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who is expected to run for Senate this year. He explained in a statement that Florida's "coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver."

"The president made it very clear that local voices count," Zinke told reporters Tuesday night. Local voices wanted to know why Florida got a special pass, including several governors of coastal states:

The attorneys general of California and Maryland noted pointedly that their coasts are also economically important national treasures, and Virginia's junior senator weighed in:

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a longtime critic of offshore drilling who Scott would run against, called Zinke's announcement "a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott." It's not just Democrats, though; several Republican governors also asked to be exempted from Zinke's drilling expansion — and Scott wasn't one of them, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Florida is politically important, but it's also home to President Trump's favorite coastal escape, the "festering cancerous conflict of interest" Mar-a-Lago, former federal ethics chief Walter Shaub noted in all-caps, advising Zinke, "Go look up 'banana republic.'" Peter Weber

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