First 100 Days Briefing: Taxpayers Will Defend Trump in Suit Charging Constitutional Violations
The lawsuit, assigned on Monday to Judge Ronnie Abrams, an appointee of President Barack Obama, centers on the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, which bars federal officeholders from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.
Before his inauguration, lawyers hired by Mr. Trump argued that the clause “does not forbid fair-market-value transactions with foreign officials,” like paying for hotel rooms. They also said Mr. Trump would donate profits from foreign governments’ patronage to the United States Treasury.
But the lawsuit, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal government corruption watchdog, contends that the clause bars such transactions, too, and that donating profits does not solve the problem. It wants the judge to stop Mr. Trump’s businesses from accepting such payments.
It is not clear that Judge Abrams will resolve the dispute over the clause’s meaning. First, she must decide whether the group has suffered enough injury to bring a court challenge.
The group argued that it had standing to sue because keeping track of foreign payments to Mr. Trump’s businesses imposed a “significant diversion and depletion of its time, resources and effort.” It cited a 1982 housing discrimination case as precedent for the idea that an advocacy organization can sue over conduct that drains its resources.
But several scholars on Monday noted that Congress had enacted a statute that made it easier to challenge housing discrimination, but not emoluments clause violations.
Josh Blackman, a conservative law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, argued in a lengthy blog entry that a “self-inflicted” injury – like choosing to track certain conduct – is generally not sufficient to establish court standing.
Ouch. Trump’s D.C. hotel is losing money.
The Trump International Hotel in Washington took in far less revenue in its first two months than it had projected in estimates it had provided to the General Services Administration, which owns the building, meaning that the hotel lost more than $1.1 million in September and October, according to a letter that House Democrats released on Monday.
The revenue totals, and estimates of expected revenue, were released as the four House Democrats pressed the General Services Administration to explain how it would respond to the apparent breach that has taken place in the lease Mr. Trump has with the agency, given that it contains a clause that appears to prohibit federal elected officials from benefiting from the lease.
The Trump Hotel, which opened in September, had estimated that it would generate $6.4 million in revenue in its first two months, but it collected just $4.1 million, according to the letter, citing information that Mr. Trump’s company provided to the agency as part of the lease agreement.
The hotel had expected about $397,000 in income through the end of October — revenue minus expenses — but actually had $1.16 million in losses.
These losses came as the hotel was just opening, a challenging time for any new hotel. And revenues have clearly surged after Mr. Trump was elected and in the time around the inauguration.
The House Democrats, led by Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the General Services Administration to explain what action, if any, it plans to take regarding the hotel lease, given the provision that appears to bar a federal elected official from holding it. The agency has so far made no public statement on how it will respond to this apparent breach.
The Democrats also released a chart showing the corporate ownership arrangement behind the Trump Post Office LLC, the corporate entity set up by the Trump family to run the hotel. It shows that Mr. Trump, at least at the time he submitted the filing to the General Services Administration, controlled 76 percent of the company, while three of his children each had about 7.5 percent.
A representative from the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two big Trump donors get plum ambassadorships
Mr. Trump is expected to nominate two private equity executives and major campaign fund-raisers to the plum diplomatic posts of Italy and Japan.
Lewis M. Eisenberg has been chosen to be ambassador to Italy, and William F. Hagerty IV will be nominated to become ambassador to Japan, according to senior White House advisers.
Mr. Eisenberg began his career at Goldman Sachs and then co-founded Granite Capital International Group. He was the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks and has long served in top positions in Republican fund-raising circles. He led a joint fund-raising effort by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee and served on Mr. Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Mr. Hagerty served as an economic adviser during the administration of President George Bush and then built a career in private equity. He was Mitt Romney’s national finance chairman in 2008 and supported former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida in the presidential campaign until Mr. Trump clinched the Republican nomination. He later became director of appointments for the Trump transition team. Early in his career, Mr. Hagerty lived in Japan for three years.
Ambassadorships to Italy and Japan are normally considered safe places for well-heeled fund-raisers, since both countries are allies. But relations with both could prove challenging in the coming years as Italy faces crucial national elections and Japan recovers from Mr. Trump’s cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a top Japanese priority.
Spicer breaks with precedent at White House podium
Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, opened his first full daily briefing with a quick joke about his lack of popularity among the press corps and a break with precedent: The first questions went to friendly outlets, not the wire services.
After a very contentious exchange with reporters over the weekend, which drew angry condemnation on social media, Mr. Spicer noted that he had sent an email to Josh Earnest, his Democratic predecessor, who had been voted the most popular press secretary among reporters.
“He can rest easy. His title is secure, at least for the next few days,” Mr. Spicer joked.
Mr. Spicer largely ignored the longstanding precedent of calling on the wire services, network reporters and major news organizations. Instead, he called on The New York Post first, then the Christian Broadcasting Network.
“Our intention is not to lie to you,” he told reporters, after a shaky start this weekend when he inflated the number of people at the president’s inauguration.
Trump is serious about his border tax
Mr. Trump issued a fresh tax warning to corporate America on Monday morning, promising that his administration would introduce a “substantial” border tax that would make it expensive for businesses to move factories outside the country.
“A company that wants to fire all of its people in the United States and build some factory someplace else, then thinks that product is going to just flow across the border into the United States,” Mr. Trump said — “that’s just not going to happen.”
How such a tax would work is in question. Would a company like General Motors that already has a plant in Mexico be hit by the tax, or would it affect only companies that move operations overseas once the law passes? What about Apple, which has contracts with manufacturers in China but doesn’t manufacture there itself?
Mr. Trump, who plans to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, rejected the notion that he was anti-trade, but insisted that his first priority as president is to put American workers first on such deals.
“What we want is fair trade” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to treat countries fairly, but they have to treat us fairly.”
Trying to ease concerns among American business executives about a border tax, Mr. Trump said that the solution was easy: Stay in the United States.
“If you stay here, there’s no tax,” he said. “All you have to do is stay.”
A Breitbart reporter heads to the White House
Julia Hahn, a young writer for the website Breitbart, is expected to join the White House as an aide working with her former boss, Mr. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist.
Ms. Hahn’s exact title and duties are unclear, although one White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly because Ms. Hahn has not yet been formally hired, said that there were a number of junior-level positions open and she would slide into one.
But Ms. Hahn wrote several Breitbart articles savaging House Speaker Paul D. Ryan over his past support for comprehensive immigration reform and his criticism of Mr. Trump during the campaign.
“He’s With Her: Inside Paul Ryan’s Months-Long Campaign to Elect Hillary Clinton President,” blared the headline on one piece in October.
During the transition period, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Bannon, who was the chairman of Breitbart, are said to have begun to develop a relationship. And aides to Mr. Ryan came away from a meeting on tax reform with Mr. Bannon and other senior advisers to the president describing Mr. Bannon as the only one with a nuanced understanding of policy.
Ms. Hahn would represent an expansion of Mr. Bannon’s growing sway within the White House, as he aligns with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to develop a governing philosophy for the new administration.
Sheldon Adelson got a prime inaugural seat, for only $125 million
In the 2016 election cycle, Sheldon Adelson, the megadonor and casino magnate, was the nearly $125 million man.
Mr. Adelson had a prime seat at Mr. Trump’s swearing in on the West Front of the Capitol last week. And at a dinner honoring Vice President Mike Pence, the president singled out Mr. Adelson in the crowd. He mocked him for having been late to donate but also said that the total amount he gave to “super PACs” was roughly $125 million.
Two people close to Mr. Adelson described that figure as accurate. Mr. Trump, in his remarks, went on to criticize super PACs and to describe them as vehicles for consultants to get rich. Mr. Adelson is said to have donated through several vehicles, including to groups supporting congressional Republicans.
Still, Mr. Adelson’s largess was consequential to Mr. Trump during the campaign. He was one of the earliest donors to support Mr. Trump, a fellow casino developer, once it became clear he would be the nominee.
During difficult stretches toward the end Mr. Trump’s race, when Mr. Adelson was pushed to donate more cash, he expressed concern about doing so unless Mr. Trump gave more of his own money to the campaign, according to two people briefed on those discussions.
Mr. Adelson’s singular focus is the safety of Israel, and one of his concerns is that the administration follow through with a vow to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.
Spicer’s first war with the news media: Sad!
Before his rise to Mr. Trump’s White House, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, was known around Washington as the somewhat beleaguered communications chief at the Republican National Committee, and before that, a spokesman around Republican quarters of the House.
But his brushes with the news media — and ensuing raw feelings — go further back than that, to his school days at Connecticut College, where he was a student government senator and his relationship with The College Voice was, shall we say, not terribly cordial. He may have even coined the meme “Sad!”
It started in April 1993, when The College Voice’s “This Week in Assembly” column detailed an amendment to ensure that an antismoking regulation would not affect existing rules for the creation of smoking and nonsmoking rooms for exams, sponsored by one “Sean Sphincter.”
That May, The College Voice allowed that Mr. Spicer was “unintentionally misidentified” and that the paper “regrets the error.”
This did not satisfy Mr. Spicer, who dashed off an angry letter to the editor about the article “in which my name was ‘misspelled.’”
“While those involved claimed that this was a copy joke that went unnoticed, I believe that it was a malicious and intentional attack. For a paper which claims to be run by ‘professional’ standards, I find it a bit sad that this type of reporting is explained as a simple part of production.”
And speaking of Mr. Spicer
The White House press secretary’s emphatic insistence that 1.5 million people attended Mr. Trump’s inauguration has become quite the national punch line.
The Dallas Stars got into the act:
So did this guy:
Even Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors and former pro player, was having fun with it.
Trump names an Air Force secretary
Mr. Trump announced that he will nominate former Representative Heather Wilson as secretary of the Air Force, making her the first graduate of the Air Force Academy to serve in the role.
Ms. Wilson, a Republican, represented New Mexico in the House from 1998 to 2009 but lost two races for the Senate. Since 2013, she has served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Her name had been floated for other administration positions, including director of national intelligence.
Trump’s first full day — as tweeted
The new president is still on Twitter, naturally, but he apparently hasn’t decided where his followers are to look.
On his old @realDonaldTrump feed on Monday morning, he offered up a little bit of news for the day ahead.
The @POTUS account, intermittently used by President Barack Obama and usually a tad dull, has become a propaganda arm of the Trump White House, with exaltations, quotations and photographs — and a profile pic of the new president that is pure Trump.
The White House did move the president’s initial @realDonaldTrump post on Monday morning to the official account, 23 minutes later. Perhaps his advisers can nudge him away from a personal account that technically he shouldn’t be using, according to the same rules that he cited when he blasted Hillary Clinton for her personal email server.
A longer look at his daily schedule is here:
Separately, Mr. Trump’s not-so-loyal opposition is pushing #MuteMonday, encouraging people to unfollow @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS, find a new leader to follow and share their choice.
Congressional leaders to meet with the president
The bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate are scheduled to go to the White House on Monday for what is billed as a casual reception with Mr. Trump.
At the inaugural luncheon after Mr. Trump’s swearing-in on Friday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, spent a good 15 minutes yakking with Mr. Trump, apparently to express displeasure with the president’s cabinet nominees, in particular Representative Tom Price of Georgia, the nominee to be secretary of health and human services.
The session will be the president’s first extended opportunity to look for common ground with Democrats, who have denounced his messages and policy priorities, including his executive order on Saturday to pave the way for weakening the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
He will also have a chance to discuss potential bipartisan initiatives, including his $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan.
Mr. Trump has high hopes for his relationship with Capitol Hill. He declared on Friday, just minutes after being sworn in, that “we all want the same thing,” regardless of political party, and, “we’re going to get along.”
Monday’s late-afternoon gathering will be a first test.
Mr. Schumer is slated to be at the Monday meeting with Senators Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican; Mr. Ryan; and Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, and Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip.
Notably, Mr. Trump is set to meet alone with Mr. Ryan afterward.
Nominees are likely to be only one of the topics.
Senators to introduce bill requiring congressional input if sanctions on Russia are lifted
Mr. Tillerson appears likely to win Senate confirmation, close relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and all. But senators are still wary of the Russia connections.
Mr. Schumer and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, are introducing legislation that would require a congressional vote to lift the sanctions that were imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and proxy war in that former Soviet state.
The two senators will emphasize that the legislation will also cover sanctions imposed just weeks ago by Mr. Obama after intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election in hopes of helping elect Mr. Trump. The measure, modeled after a law that required a congressional vote on the Iran nuclear deal, is expected to have bipartisan support, as that legislation did.
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