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Daily Archives: February 10th, 2020


02/06/2020 08:34 pm ET Updated 9 hours ago

The impeachment trial is over, but Senate Republicans are pressing forward with an investigation into the Bidens.

By Arthur Delaney

WASHINGTON ― The Treasury Department has given congressional Republicans sensitive financial information related to Hunter Biden after having refused to give Democrats President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Yahoo News first reported Thursday that the Treasury Department handed over highly confidential information in response to a November request from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) for suspicious activity reports filed with the department by financial institutions.

Last year, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin blocked a Democratic request for the president’s tax filings, saying Democrats had no legitimate legislative purpose for seeking the documents.

“The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power,” Mnuchin said in an April 2019 letter.

Apparently, that same standard did not apply when it came to non-tax financial information that may pertain to the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Trump political rival.

“The administration told House Democrats to go pound sand when their oversight authority was mandatory while voluntarily cooperating with the Senate Republicans’ sideshow at lightning speed,” Ashley Schapitl, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, said in a statement.

Senate Republicans are investigating Hunter Biden as part of an inquiry designed to bolster Trump’s unfounded claim that Joe Biden used the vice presidency to benefit his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was involved in setting U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe.

For [Treasury] to go willy-nilly handing out financial information of private citizens … is simply outrageous.Steve Rosenthal, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

The inquiry, which includes at least a half dozen records requests to various organizations and executive branch agencies, has proceeded since fall with relatively little notice. It picks up where Trump left off last summer when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate whether Biden had improperly recommended the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor.

Zelensky never followed through because Democrats learned of the scheme from a whistleblower report, which launched their impeachment inquiry and prompted the White House to release a secret hold on military assistance to Ukraine. The House impeached Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges in December.

In the Senate trial last month, the president’s lawyers said Hunter Biden’s board membership created the appearance of a conflict of interest, but they stopped short of alleging any actual illegality. As the Senate Republicans’ records requests show, the quest for corroboration continues.

In their letter seeking suspicious activity reports related to Hunter Biden and various associates, Republicans cited an internal Senate rule authorizing the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to investigate the effectiveness of “all agencies and departments” of the federal government. Financial institutions are required to file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department if they reasonably suspect customer transactions may be connected to money laundering.

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Democrats based their request for Trump’s tax records on a federal tax disclosure law granting congressional committees access to private tax information by request. Mnuchin and the Justice Department claimed that Democrats only wanted to embarrass the president, so they refused to comply. Now the request is tied up in court.

It’s hypocritical for the Treasury Department to stonewall Democrats’ request while granting Republicans access to material on Hunter Biden, said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. He said it’s hard to see what legislative purpose Republicans are after with regard to Hunter Biden.

“For [Treasury] to go willy-nilly handing out financial information of private citizens… is simply outrageous,” Rosenthal said.

A spokesman for Grassley wouldn’t say if the Finance Committee is also seeking Biden’s tax returns. The committee generally doesn’t disclose whether it has sought someone’s private tax information; Grassley has used the tax disclosure law to obtain the returns of tax-exempt organizations, such as nonprofit hospitals, and to investigate ACORN, an organization that registered low-income voters, who tend to be Democrats.

The Treasury Department declined to comment.


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An area sacred to indigenous groups is being destroyed for Trump’s border wall

Border wall construction in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is threatening a burial ground and other sacred areas.

Montezuma’s Head in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s Ajo Range, near the US-Mexico border in Arizona. 
Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Portions of a national monument held sacred by some indigenous Americans were destroyed this week to make space for President Donald Trump’s signature US-Mexico border wall.

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a designated national monument and a UNESCO biosphere reserve on Arizona’s southern border, about 25 miles west of Tuscon. Home to the organ pipe cactus, the reserve also contains burial sites belonging to the Tohono O’odham Nation, as well as sites revered by other indigenous groups.

This week, crews commissioned by Customs and Border Protection (CPB) began blasting through the park’s Monument Hill to make way for a section of the border wall, allegedly without consultation from the O’odham Nation.

“There has been no consultation with the nation,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) told CBS News. “This administration is basically trampling on the tribe’s history — and to put it poignantly, its ancestry.”

The construction was authorized in May by the Department of Defense, which oversees civil defense-related building contracts, when it awarded $891 million to contractors for wall construction at Organ Pipe and the nearby Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

CBP officials describe the work as “controlled blasting” needed to erect a 30-foot steel wall across 43 miles of desert. Monument Hill, also called Monument Mountain, stands within this stretch of desert, and is part of the Roosevelt Reservation, a sixty foot-wide swathe of public land across the southern border. Blasting is expected to take place intermittently for the next month, according to the Associated Press.

The construction only marks a small part of the work being done across the US-Mexico border, the cost of which has so far totaled about $18.4 billion. Part of that total is a $3.5 billion sum the White House plans to pull from military counter-drug spending, up from $2.5 billion last year, and $3.7 billion that will be rerouted from funds earmarked for military construction funding.

The O’odham and environmentalists have been unsuccessful in their efforts to stop construction

The portion being cleared inside the Organ Pipe park is directly adjacent to O’odham burial sites, according to Grijalva. Indeed, crews working in the area last year found ancient human bones, suggesting that their work has already touched upon indigenous burial sites. According to a memo obtained by the Washington Post, those bones could be just the beginning: The National Park Service found that up to 22 archaeological sites could be damaged by the construction process.

O’odham leaders have had difficulty fighting the construction given the land no longer officially belongs to the tribe. However, O’dham Nation chairman Ned Norris, Jr., has argued that the area should fall under the auspices of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which is meant to protect indigenous burial sites and return important cultural items to affiliated tribal entities.

“The Nation categorically opposes the barrier construction projects, because they directly harm and threaten both the lands currently reserved for the Nation and its ancestral lands that extend along the international boundary in Arizona,” Norris wrote in part. to the CBP last November.

When O’odham representatives and Grijalva visited the site in January, Norris vowed to continue fighting the construction.

“Regardless that it isn’t within our reservation boundaries anymore, but it’s clear, we have inhabited this area since time immemorial,” Norris said, according to the Arizona Republic. ”They’re our ancestors. They’re our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it’s our obligation, it’s our duty to do what is necessary to protect that.”

The work has raised concerns among environmental activists as well — a group of whom sued to try to stop construction. That suit did not suspend progress.

The monument was designated a biosphere reserve in 1976 in order to preserve its unique desert ecosystem. Environmental advocates have expressed concerns over the impact the wall will have on migrating animals and rare cactuses. Two endangered species, the Sonoyta mud turtle and Quitobaquito pupfish, make their homes in a desert oasis within the park — activists fear the construction could do irreparable damage to their already fragile populations.

CBP officials dismissed these fears, and have said an “environmental monitor” will present during the clearing work.

And although biosphere reserves and Native American sites do have special protections, the Trump administration can bypass environmental and tribal sovereignty concerns by invoking to the REAL ID Act of 2005, which allows the federal government to ignore certain laws in the interest of national security. The Trump administration has used that waiver at least 16 times, according to Grijalva.

The Trump administration has long ignored social and environmental concerns about the US-Mexico border wall

Social and environmental costs have been pointed out to the Trump administration throughout the process of realizing the president’s signature 2016 campaign promise, and those concerns seem to have little effect on the project’s progress.

Vox’s Eliza Barclay and Sarah Frostenson have reported on the significant ecological impact of border wall construction, beginning with the existing 654 miles of walls and fencing that were already on the US-Mexico border when Trump took office. As they wrote:

The existing barrier has cut off, isolated, and reduced populations of some of the rarest and most amazing animals in North America, like the jaguar. They’ve led to the creation of miles of roads through pristine wilderness areas. They’ve even exacerbated flooding, becoming dams when rivers have overflowed.

Proposed construction in Texas would cut through a federal wildlife refuge, a state park, the National Butterfly Center, and more Native American grave sites, they reported. Such damage is not merely environmental, they add, but also potentially political, threatening conservation-based partnerships with Mexico that strengthened the overall relationship between the two nations, according to one conservationist they spoke to.

But immigration — not conservation or reparations — has been this president’s signature issue since before he was elected. It is an issue his base is passionate about, and one he can claim he has been successful in implementing promised policy changes, from reducing the number of legal and undocumented immigrants entering the US to getting sections of the wall built. With November’s election right around the corner, pushback on one portion of his border work — especially from indigenous Americans and environmentalists, not exactly his base, isn’t likely to give the Trump administration much pause.


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He wants to debate the question so many voters care about: How do you defeat Donald Trump in November?



WASHINGTON — Presidential debates moderated by cable-news personalities tend to produce the same, tired questions over and over:


Candidate A, why Candidate B is wrong/unprepared/ill-equipped to lead the country?


Followed, inevitably, by: Candidate Y, how do you respond to Candidate X?


Or there’s the perennial classic: Are you going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for social program X? And when the candidate tries to explain that any increase in middle-class tax rates will be offset by savings from, say, a universal health-care system, the follow-up question from the tough-sounding moderator is: Yes or no, will taxes go up?


During Friday’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire, however, one of the candidates onstage bucked the typical debate script by posing questions of his own — a curious campaign strategy, to be sure, but the result was better, more urgent questions about how the heck the eventual Democratic nominee is going to defeat President Trump.


The candidate was liberal California billionaire Tom Steyer, who sounded more like an angry and concerned citizen freaked about Trump’s reelection prospects than a polished presidential contender clinging to his talking points. It was Steyer who, time and again on Friday night, steered the conversation away from yet another tit-for-tat argument and back to the larger question of what the Democratic message should be to defeat an incumbent president with a climbing approval rating and a strong economy (at least for now).


Steyer cut his way into a disagreement between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg by saying, “I have heard this conversation on this debate stage from these people now every single debate, and they’re all right. Everybody on this stage is better on economic justice and health care than anybody in the Republican Party and a million times better than Donald Trump. That is not the question in front of us today.” That question, of course, is: Who can beat Trump, and how?


He put a finer point on it later in the debate. “I don’t think there’s any question that after this week there’s a real threat that Donald Trump can get elected,” he said. He went to say that a Democrat with any hope of ousting Trump will have to appeal to voters across the Democratic spectrum — white, black, brown, Asian American, of all income brackets, moderates, progressives, and everyone in between. “Unless you can appeal to the diverse parts of the Democratic party,” he said, “then we can’t beat Donald Trump in November.”




Tom Steyer


There’s a real threat that Donald Trump can get re-elected. There’s one way to beat him—turnout. Turnout across the spectrum of Democratic voters, and that means moderates, progressives, and specifically the Black and Latino communities.


7:17 PM – Feb 7, 2020

Steyer touted his support from 24 percent of black voters in South Carolina as evidence that he’s the candidate who can unite the party and beat Trump. But there’s scant evidence that Steyer has the kind of mass appeal that he himself speaks about. Nonetheless, he deserves credit for forcing a conversation, in spite of what the moderators sought to do, that addressed head-on the burning question on the minds of so many anxiety-riddled Democrats.

It’s appalling that every debate doesn’t include some version of the question “Why was Donald Trump elected in 2016, and how does your theory of four years ago shape your election strategy now?” You could go down the line of candidates, and each one would give you an original answer. The ensuing debate would be more illuminating than most of the official Democratic debates so far put together.

But that hasn’t happened much at all. Steyer, by hammering away at the Democratic Party’s formidable challenge in November, is doing his party a favor by forcing the issue now.


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