SEARCH

Wednesday
Mar202019

EPA chief says water issues a bigger crisis than climate change

Tero Vesalainen/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the top U.S. environmental agency said on Wednesday that the Trump administration considers drinking water quality around the world a bigger crisis than climate change, despite the recent surge in debate around the proposed Green New Deal.

In remarks in Washington to mark World Water Day, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said safe drinking water, plastic pollution and other litter in the oceans, drought in western states, and water infrastructure are "the largest and most immediate environmental and public health issues affecting the world right now."

Wheeler said the Trump administration wants to do more to address water issues that affect up to 2.5 billion people around the world, according to the United Nations, and infrastructure issues that could cost the U.S. up to $700 billion.

He said many people will attribute the problems to climate change even though those impacts are decades away.
 
"My frustration with the current dialogue around environmental issues is that water issues often take a backseat. It’s time to change that," he said in his remarks.

"We need to do something about the millions of people who die each year due to a lack of clean water and sanitation. We need to do something about marine debris. And I believe we can do this while still addressing other challenges that loom on the horizon," Wheeler added.

Communities around the country are dealing with aging water infrastructure and contamination from sources like chemicals or lead. The crisis in Flint, Michigan is one of the most publicized examples but more cities like Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey have been dealing with lead-contaminated water.

"We have one thousand children die every day worldwide because they don't have safe drinking water. That's a, that's a crisis that I think we can solve," Wheeler said in an interview with CBS News, citing United Nations statistics.

"Most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out. What we need to do is make sure that the people who are dying today from lack of having drinking water in third world countries that problem is addressed," he said.

The EPA's top enforcement issue recently told members of Congress one of the agency's biggest concerns is the number of drinking water systems that are violating safety requirements or using outdated infrastructure.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar202019

Trump ratchets up attacks after George Conway questions his mental fitness

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday ratcheted up the Twitter feud with George Conway, the husband of his top aide Kellyanne Conway, in a scathing attack in which he calls the prominent conservative lawyer "a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!"

The president's latest tweet, in which he accuses Conway of being "VERY jealous" of his wife, comes after Conway fired off a series of tweets Monday morning questioning the president's mental fitness after his weekend tweetstorm.

Trump previously slammed Conway as a "total loser" in his first response to Conway, while retweeting his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who recycled a condescending nickname Trump has used, calling George Conway "Mr. Kellyanne Conway" and asserting that "he hurts his wife because he is jealous of her success."

George Conway issued a speedy response Tuesday on Twitter, sarcastically congratulating the president for effectively drawing more attention to his original tweets in which he ponders various mental disorders that Conway argues could be applied, zeroing in on “narcissistic personality disorder.”

After the president's latest tweet on Wednesday, Conway was quick to issue another sarcastic response to the president, welcoming his continued engagement on the issue as proof of his point, saying "You seem determined to prove my point. Good for you!"

"You. Are. Nuts." Conway added in a second tweet.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, was asked Monday about her husband's tweet and said she does not share his views.

“I don’t share those concerns and I have four kids, and I was getting out of house this morning and was talking with the president about substance so I may not be up to speed on all of them,” she said when asked whether she shares the concerns her husband has voiced.

In an unrelated exchange on Monday, in which Conway was addressing the New Zealand massacre, Conway urged people who are not experts to stop commenting as if they were.

“By the way, folks, if you’re not an expert on this, stop weighing in like you are,” she said in an interview on Fox and Friends. “We don’t need to hear your opinion on every single thing.”

The president has previously said "I really don’t know the guy."

But Conway had been up for a top Justice Department job leading the civil division in the early months of the Trump administration, before ultimately withdrawing himself from consideration in June 2017, citing family concerns.

While Conway has recently ratcheted up his tweets in expressing his concerns about the president's mental fitness, he has long used the social media platform to tweet critically about the president, even as his wife fills a top job in the White House and is one of the president's most ardent public defenders.

Just last week, Conway took to Twitter to call the president a "liar" and "pathological," raising the question of impeachment and calling for a "serious inquiry ... about this man’s condition of mind," and questioning: "Is it possible to count? At any level of government in this country, in any party, have we ever seen anything like this? It’s beyond politics. It’s nuts. It’s a disorder."

In an interview with the Washington Post Tuesday, George Conway challenged the notion that the president hardly knows him and noted that he’s had a number of notable interactions with the president over the course of a decade, including on legal matters.

In the interview, he defended his penchant for tweeting about the president as a way to avoid letting his frustrations spill into his marriage.

“The tweeting is just the way to get it out of the way, so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day. That’s basically it. Frankly, it’s so I don’t end up screaming at her about it,” Conway told the Post.
 
George Conway declined to comment on the state of his marriage, other than to say that he wishes his wife didn’t work in the White House, though he said he is proud of her.

“No one was prouder than I was that she was able to elect this man president despite his obvious flaws,” he said of his wife, insisting that he is not jealous.

But he also took some credit for her present success.

“I made it possible for her to be where she is today. So there’s that. It’s not about jealousy. It’s about reality. Who this man is, and whether he’s fit for public office. Which, as I’ve said, he isn’t,” Conway said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar202019

After blacks kicked off juries, Mississippi death row inmate brings racial bias claim to Supreme Court

Bill Chizek/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- For the past 22 years on death row, Curtis Flowers has been adamant about his innocence and convinced deep-seated racial bias by juries may cost him his life.

On Wednesday, the 48-year-old Mississippi man asks the U.S. Supreme Court for a new trial. If he gets his way, Flowers could face an unprecedented seventh trial.

Flowers, who's African-American, was first convicted in 1997 for the 1996 execution-style murders of four people at a furniture store where he used to work. He had no criminal record at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors never found a murder weapon or any physical evidence tying him to the scene. There were no witnesses.

In 2010, during his most recent trial, a jury of 11 white jurors and one black juror convicted him and sentenced him to death.

The conviction capped a legal journey plagued by prosecutorial misconduct, allegations of racism and deadlocked juries. With mistrials and retrials, Flowers faced not one but six separate juries for the same crime.

At the heart of Flowers' appeal are allegations that prosecuting District Attorney Doug Evans systematically eliminated prospective black jurors during the selection process because of their race.

For decades, prosecutors and defendants have been able to shape the makeup of a jury in criminal cases by employing so-called "peremptory challenges" during the selection process.

The tool allows each side to eliminate a number of prospective jurors from the pool for any reason or no reason at all. Rationale, commonly cited, can include a juror's family upbringing, his or her demeanor or even posture in the courtroom.

Advocates say the practice ensures balance and fairness by allowing input from both sides. Critics say it poses a threat to the constitutional guarantee of an impartial jury if not closely scrutinized.

While lawyers have broad discretion, the Supreme Court has banned peremptory challenges used solely on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex. If concerns are raised by one side, the court has said, opposing lawyers must provide a legitimate non-discriminatory explanation for striking a juror.

Flowers wants the court to specifically consider whether the district attorney's use of peremptory challenges in the sixth trial was discriminatory and unconstitutional, particularly in light of his documented history of targeting black prospective jurors.

Each of the first two times Evans tried Flowers, the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out the convictions citing prosecutorial misconduct. The juries were all-white and nearly all-white in each case.

In the third trial, the state's high court overturned the verdict again, calling Evans' conduct during jury selection "as strong a case of racial discrimination as we have ever seen."

Juries in the fourth and fifth trials, which each had multiple black jurors, ended deadlocked along racial lines.

In 2010, the sixth time Flowers' case was tried, a jury of 11 white jurors and one black juror convicted him and sentenced him to death. On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court assessed that Evans' peremptory challenges against black jurors were reasonable and not based on race.

"Across the five trials for which the numbers are available, Evans faced a total of 43 black prospective jurors while he had peremptory strikes at his disposal. He struck 41 of them and allowed only one ... to serve," Flowers' legal team writes in court documents.

In the sixth trial, the legal team wrote, he removed 83 percent, or 5 out of 6, of the black prospective jurors tendered, but a "mere" 5 percent, or 1 out of 20, white jurors.

"Evans had previously won convictions of Flowers only by breaking the rules, and in this sixth trial he broke the rules again," Flowers' team writes in their brief to the high court. "Close examination shows greater cunning, but the same purposeful discrimination on the basis of race."

A team of investigative journalists with American Public Media, which has documented the Flowers case for its "In the Dark" podcast, examined Evans' use of peremptory challenges in more than 418 trials going back to 1992. They found that he removed black jurors at a rate 4.5 times higher than white jurors.

"Even a cursory review of the record demonstrates that the State's articulated reasons for the strikes was not racially motivated," Mississippi's lawyers write in their brief to the high court.

The state says the justices should keep a narrow focus on the detailed explanations given for peremptory challenges used in the most recent trial.

"Each juror was questioned based on their respective responses and the race-neutral reasons provided are commensurate with the mandate of this Court," they wrote.

The Supreme Court has shown deep concern about racial inequity in the justice system and an awareness of the role peremptory challenges might play.

"The law's anti-discrimination command and a peremptory jury-selection system that permits or encourages the use of stereotypes work at cross-purposes," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a 2005 opinion.

And the court's newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote in a 1989 Yale Law Journal article that rationale given for peremptory challenges where race might be a factor must be closely scrutinized by judges.

"'Any prosecutor can easily assert facially neutral reasons for striking a juror, and trial courts are ill-equipped to second-guess those reasons,'" Kavanaugh wrote, quoting the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The court could uphold Flowers' conviction, implicitly endorsing Evans' use of peremptory challenges in this case. It could also strike it down, requiring lower courts to look again at the prosecutor's pattern of behavior as an important factor in evaluating fairness in the jury selection process.

Flowers awaits a ruling from death row in Mississippi, maintaining his innocence.

"I'm not going to say I killed someone when I didn't," Flowers said in 2010, according to Rolling Stone magazine. "I would rather be executed and go to Heaven and know I did the right thing that to be in this world if I have to admit to something I didn't do."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar202019

Trump rules out trying to expand Supreme Court

dkfielding/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday ruled out trying to expand the Supreme Court with new justices -- or "court packing" as critics call it -- even as the idea has gained traction with several Democratic candidates for president.

"No, I wouldn't entertain that," Trump said in response to a question from a reporter with the Daily Caller at his Rose Garden news conference with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. "The only reason that [Democrats are] doing that is they want to try and catch up."

Democrats have argued that the measure would be a tit-for-tat response to moves already taken by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get high numbers of conservative judges nominated and confirmed to courts across the country, as well as McConnell's success in preventing former President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court Merrick Garland from ever receiving a vote.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, and Indiana Mayor Pete Buggieg are just a few of the Democratic candidates who have entertained the prospect of expanding the court.

Once considered a proposal popular only among the political fringes, Trump's back-to-back appointments of Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh revived 'court packing' as a mainstream issue in response to Democrats' fears that conservatives could gain a majority on the court for decades to come.

Though legal experts have warned the move could further thrust the court into turmoil by turning it a body completely polluted by political maneuvering, an argument already leveled by some Democrats following the controversial Kavanaugh confirmation process.

The issue could also create a potential opening for Trump, as he has repeatedly cited the Supreme Court as a leading motivator for rallying his base in his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

"If they can't catch up through the ballot box winning by an election, they want to try doing it in a different way," Trump said Tuesday. "We would have no interest in that whatsoever, that'll never happen. I guarantee you it won't happen for six years."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar192019

President Trump pledges to get to 'the bottom of' alleged anti-conservative bias on social media

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump doubled down on his words of support for of conservatives on social media – a group he says has faced "big discrimination."

"Things are happening, names are taken off, people aren't getting through, you've heard the same complaints and it seems to be if they are conservative, if they're Republicans, if they're in a certain group there's discrimination and big discrimination," Trump said.

"I see it absolutely on Twitter and on Facebook which I have also and others," Trump said during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday.

"I get to see what's going on first hand and it is not good, we use the word 'collusion' very loosely all the time and I will tell you there is collusion with respect to that because something has to be going on and when you get the back scene, back office statements made by executives of the various companies and you see the level of, in many cases, hatred they have for a certain group of people who happen to be in power, that happen to have won the election, you say that's really unfair," Trump continued. "So something's happening with those groups of folks who are running Facebook and Google and Twitter and I do think we have to get to the bottom of it."

His comments come on the heels of a lawsuit by Rep. Devin Nunes, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is suing political strategist Liz Mair, Twitter and two twitter accounts for negligence, defamation, insulting words and civil conspiracy.

The lawsuit was first reported by Fox News.

In the complaint, Nunes says Twitter is "knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory – providing both a voice and financial incentive to the defamers – thereby facilitating defamation on its platform."

"The accounts, known as @DevinNunesMom and @DevinNunesCow often pushed content that Nunes' lawyers say was "for the sole purpose of attacking, defaming, disparaging and demeaning Nunes. Between February 2018 and March 2019, Twitter allowed @DevinNunesMom to post hundreds of egregiously false, defamatory, insulting,abusive, hateful, scandalous and vile statements about Nunes that without question violated Twitter’s Terms of Service and Rules, including a seemingly endless series of tweets that falsely accused Nunes of obstruction of justice, perjury, misuse of classified information, and other federal crimes," the complaint continued.

The lawsuit alleges Twitter took no action, while Nunes was being defamed.

“As part of its agenda to squelch Nunes’ voice, cause him extreme pain and suffering, influence the 2018 Congressional election, and distract, intimidate and interfere with Nunes’ investigation into corruption and Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election, Twitter did absolutely nothing,” the complaint reads.

Nunes came under fire by some Democrats for the way he ran the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee.

The suit says Mair worked with two parody accounts, @DevinNunesMom, which is now defunct, and @DevinCow, which they allege she once suggested others follow.

On Twitter, Mair has said she is not commenting on the lawsuit.

A Twitter spokesperson also told ABC News they are not commenting on the suit.

A Nunes spokesperson confirms the report but declined to comment any further, simply pointing back to the Fox News report.

Republicans in the past have complained about so-called "shadow banning" - with the president tweeting about it over the summer.

"Shadow banning" is when a user's content on social media is not readily available to other users, giving the impression that they are banned from the site.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar192019

President Trump and 'the Trump of the Tropics,' Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, meet at White House

SERGIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump and "the Trump of the Tropics," Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, met face to face at the White House on Tuesday.

Bolsonaro -- a nationalist, Twitter-loving, "fake-news" decrying politician -- chose to make the first bilateral trip of his presidency to Washington, where he has found an important friend and ally in Trump.

As part of a three-day visit in Washington, Bolsonaro will hold a press conference with Trump as he aims to strenghten economic ties and positioning with the U.S. as Brazil seeks an allied front in the Western Hemisphere. In a statement ahead of the visit, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the two leaders will discuss "opportunities for defense cooperation, pro-growth trade policies, combatting transnational crime and restoring democracy in Venezuela."

A senior administration official, who requested anonymity, told reporters Bolsonaro's visit represented a "real opportunity to fundamentally remake our relationship with Brazil."

"The U.S.-Brazil relationship has always been one of potential, but yet that potential has not always been met," the senior administration official said. "This time it is different. This is a historic remaking of the U.S.-Brazil relationship where there is truly going to be a North-South axis of the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere and a true partnership of the largest economies."

At the start of their White House meetings, the president said he is considering NATO membership or some kind of similar alliance for Brazil.

“We are looking at it very strongly. We are very inclined to do that. The relationship that we have right now with Brazil has never been better. I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There is zero hostility with me,” Trump said. “And we are going to look at that very strongly in terms of whether it is NATO or something having to do with alliance.”

The president said he and Bolsonaro “will be talking about that at great length” about strategy regarding Venezuela.

“We don’t want to say exactly, I know exactly what I want to happen, but we will be talking about different things. All options are on the table. It's a shame what is happening in Venezuela. The death and the destruction and the hunger, it's hard to believe -- one of the wealthiest countries in one of the poorest and most impoverished countries,” Trump said.

Also on the agenda, is a Brazilian offer to grant the United States access to a rocket launch site, the removal of a visa requirement for Americans traveling to Brazil, and trade.

Bolsonaro, who was accompanied on his trip to the United States by his son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Monday and addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Brazil is the second-largest economy in the Western Hemisphere, and the United States is Brazil's second-largest trading partner after China.

"For the first time in a while, a pro-America Brazilian president arrives in D.C.," Bolsonaro tweeted upon arriving in Washington. "It's the beginning of a partnership focused on liberty and prosperity, something that all of us Brazilians have long wished for."

 Like Trump, Bolsonaro is a right-wing populist with a penchant for rocking the status quo and using Twitter to blast his message around the globe. Bolsonaro has been accused of making racist and homophobic remarks and recently has come under fire for a sexually explicit tweet during Brazil’s Carnival festival.

Trump was one of the first world leaders to call and congratulate Bolsonaro after this landslide victory in October. Similar to Trump's election, Bolsonaro's win stunned the world and was part a wave of nationalist, right-wing leaders elected in Latin America.

"His election, he broke all of the historic taboos of winning an election in Latin America. He was unabashedly, particularly in Brazil, pro America," a senior administration official said of Bolsonaro. "He ran on a campaign that he wanted to be the best friend of the United States that he wanted to have this close relationship with President Trump, and what that would mean for Brazil, for the region, for the world, I think that was very important."

The official said the president took note of Bolsonaro's Trump-like rhetoric and social media presence, and called Bolsonaro to congratulate him within hours of his election.

 U.S. officials hope the visit will not only boost their economic relationship but align efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Venezuela.

Brazil shares a border with Venezuela and, like the United States, has joined with dozens of other world leaders in pressuring socialist Nicholas Maduro to turn over power to opposition leader Juan Guaido. But while Trump has said "every option is on the table" in Venezuela, suggesting the use of military force, Brazil has pushed for diplomatic talks to lead to a change in power.

A senior administration official said Brazil plays an important role as an "interlocutor" between the U.S. and Venezuela.

"Brazil has allowed the United States to preposition humanitarian aid for Venezuela on Brazil's northern border and we are very grateful to that and we thank him for working tirelessly to provide aide to the Brazilian people and them opening their doors," the official said. "There's also an opportunity here where they can be very good interlocutors. The Brazilian Military has very good relationships with the Venezuelan military and clearly communicate with them as to what should be the role with the Venezuelan military in regards to civility and not repressing and not maintaining the usurpation of democracy Maduro seeks."

The U.S. and Brazil hope to end the meetings with signed agreements, including an agreement that would allow the U.S. to launch satellites and rockets into space from Brazil.

"You will see -- after the visit tomorrow, we will plan to announce a joint statement that will have a lot of deliverables, some which are currently, frankly, right now being signed and being finalized and being negotiated. And that's all extraordinarily positive," an official said Monday. "We think that we have, really, a historic opportunity to re-frame hemispheric relations with this North-South axis."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar192019

President Trump again blasts John McCain, says he was 'never a fan' and 'never will be'

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump again criticized the late Sen. John McCain Tuesday, pointing specifically to his vote against repealing Obamacare and saying was “never a fan" and "never will be."

“I'm very unhappy that he didn't repeal and replace Obamacare, as you know. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years and then they got to a vote and he said thumbs down,” Trump said. “Plus there were other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.”

The president's comments came during an Oval Office meeting with the president of Brazil and after a series of weekend tweets in which Trump blasted the senator, who passed away battling brain cancer in last August.

Trump accused him of “spreading the fake and totally discredited dossier” and of sending it to the FBI and the media “hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election.” But the president’s claim is not accurate. McCain wasn’t made aware of the dossier until after the election when he passed it on to the FBI.

 The dossier, compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Along with other explosive allegations, it alleged that Russians held compromising information about Trump that could be used to blackmail him.

On ABC's "The View" on Monday, McCain's daughter Meghan fired back at Trump, saying he "spends his weekend obsessing over great men" because "he will never be a great man" like her father.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar192019

Judge orders release of Michael Cohen's unsealed search warrants

Win McNamee/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Unsealed search warrants related to President Donald Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen have been released as part of a court order by a federal judge in New York.

The warrants relate to a search executed on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April.

The documents were unsealed after news organizations, including ABC News, pressed the court to order their release. The judge agreed but on the condition any reference to an ongoing investigation was redacted.

While the documents break down Cohen’s financial crimes -- to which he has pleaded guilty -- the portions about the ongoing campaign finance investigation in which Cohen has implicated Trump are entirely redacted.

The search warrant affidavits made clear the matter was referred to federal prosecutors in New York from special counsel Robert Mueller. Cohen owed $22 million on taxi medallion loans from Sterling National Bank and Melrose Credit Union. In January 2017, as Trump assumed the presidency, Cohen began receiving nearly $3 million for what the FBI believed to be political consulting work, “including consulting for international clients on issues pending before the Trump administration.” There was a suspicion of a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) violation by Cohen from authorities. The FBI also said Cohen never told the banks to which he owed money that he had this additional source of income.

In a statement Tuesday, Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, told ABC News the release “only furthers [Cohen’s] interest in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress.”

Cohen was sentenced to three years in jail and is expected to report for his sentence in early May.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar192019

Trump International Hotel at the center of appeals fight in lawsuit

wingedwolf/iStock(RICHMOND, Va.) -- Attorneys for President Donald Trump will appear in court Tuesday to argue against claims that the president violated a constitutional clause that prohibits elected officials from doing business with foreign governments.

The case, which is being brought jointly by the attorneys general from Maryland and Washington, D.C., argues that Trump violated the U.S. Constitution's foreign emoluments clauses by benefiting from the patronage of foreign dignitaries at the Trump International Hotel located just a few blocks away from the White House.

On any given night, patrons walking through the lobby could chance upon Trump insiders hosting social events, or could even spot the president himself dropping in for dinner unannounced.

The hotel also sees its fair share of foreign government officials. Dignitaries from Bahrain, Azerbeijan, Nigeria and South Korea have all been spotted in the hotel, and just last month the hotel hosted the Kuwaiti embassy's national gala.

Attorneys who have brought the lawsuit against Trump are arguing that foreign officials who patronize Trump's D.C. property may be currying favor with the president.

"We're very confident that we can prove that the President of the United States, a major owner of the Trump Hotel, is in fact receiving moneys from foreign countries who are quite motivated to show the president favor," said Karl Racine, the Washington D.C. attorney general. "So that the president might be more inclined to tilt in a direction that they like."

The Constitution's two so-called emoluments clauses prohibit the president from accepting gifts or profiting from a foreign or domestic government. Tuesday's case is one of three such cases brought against the president related to this issue.

Attorneys for the president moved that one of the other cases, brought by members of Congress, be dismissed. A judge in that case found that the members of Congress have standing for the suit, and is currently considering other elements of the president's motion to dismiss. The other emoluments case, brought by a government watchdog group, was dismissed and is currently being appealed.

Attorneys for the president attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed earlier this year, but a judge in Maryland ruled in July that the case could proceed, citing in his decision that the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general had "convincingly argued that the term 'emolument' ... means any 'profit,' 'gain,' or 'advantage' and that accordingly, they have stated claims to the effect that the president, in certain instances, has violated both the foreign and domestic clause."

The outcome of the case will depend largely on how the term "emolument" comes to be defined. This is open for debate however, as emoluments cases are exceptionally rare, and one has never gone to trial in the United States.

Earlier this year, the president's legal team argued for a more narrowly tailored interpretation of the emoluments clause, stating that payments by foreign dignitaries to the Trump Hotel should not be considered emoluments because they don't relate to his work as president.

The president is being represented in his professional capacity by attorneys from the Department of Justice.

But the judge who allowed the case to proceed sided with the Maryland and D.C. attorneys generals' broader definition of the term, who argued that an emolument is anything of value, including payments to the president's companies.

"No Americans should ever have to question whether a decision, a priority, or a policy approach that the President is taking has been influenced by his receipt of foreign money that goes right into his pocket," Racine said. "That's why we're bringing this lawsuit."

The president's adult sons running the business have bristled at the charge they are profiting off the presidency.

"Unlike any other luxury hospitality company, we do not market to or solicit foreign government business," said Eric Trump, an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. "In fact, we go to great lengths to discourage foreign government patronage at our properties."

Potential violations of the emoluments clause have also caught the attention of some members of Congress with oversight power.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight committee, told ABC News that he believes that Trump is personally profiting from the presidency.

"Every time he gets a check. Every time you have a situation where -- people say -- go to his hotel -- spend money there, and it appears that they are trying to either curry favor or they're trying to get something," Cummings said. "That, to me, is a violation."

During Tuesday's arguments before an appellate judge in Richmond, Virginia, attorneys for the president will challenge that ruling, arguing as they have in the past that foreign dignitaries simply "prefer the Trump brand" and are not currying favor with the president when patronizing the Trump Hotel.

In February, the Trump Organization donated $191,000 to the United States Treasury, a figure the organization said reflects its profits from doing business with foreign governments during the 2018 fiscal year. Before his inauguration, Trump pledged to donate all profits from foreign government patrons at his hotels and other properties to the U.S. Treasury. He similarly donated $151,000 the previous year.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Mar192019

'Kushner, Inc.' author says Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump on 'remarkably unstoppable' path

THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The woman behind a blistering new book that aims to dissect the personal and business lives of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner said in an interview on the ABC News podcast "The Investigation" the power couple has appeared "remarkably unstoppable" going back to President Donald Trump's campaign.

"As to whether or not these two will be held accountable, I think this [could go either of] two ways," said Vicky Ward, the British-born author of Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. "Either they will [face scrutiny from] a combination of Congress and prosecutors. Or their path, their trajectory, will continue as it has, which seemingly is remarkably unstoppable."

[ READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF WARD'S INTERVIEW ON "THE INVESTIGATION" ]

Ward said she doesn't know whether any of the conduct described in her book will lead to legal problems for the president's daughter and son-in-law. She said her book covered some of the same subjects that were raised in letters that House Judiciary Chairman Jerold Nadler sent to 81 people and entities as part of a wide-ranging investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice, public corruption and other abuses of power.

From the time she began working on her latest book Ward said she was warned the White House would try to undermine her credibility and discredit her work.

"I was warned back in the summer before I'd actually written a single word," she said.

"Someone very close to the Kushners said they're going to go and try and discredit you," Ward said. "I mean, I knew right from the outset that's what their plan was."

She said she has been told that aides to Donald Trump have been calling people they believed had granted her interviews, asking them to "disavow" the book, which hits stores Tuesday.

The book presents a scathing portrait of the president's eldest daughter and son-in-law, portraying them as amoral and unscrupulous operators who migrated from New York real estate circles into plum White House postings. Ward's book prompted a public condemnation from the White House and from a private attorney who represents the couple. Ward said she interviewed more than 200 people, has at least two sources for every claim and, according to Ward, had a team of seven fact-checkers vet it before publication.

"Every point that Ms. Ward mentioned in what she called her 'fact checking' stage was entirely false," countered Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner, and Ivanka Trump's attorney, Abbe Lowell. "It seems she has written a book of fiction rather than any serious attempt to get the facts. Correcting everything wrong would take too long and be pointless."

A statement released by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declared that it was "sad, but not surprising" that the media "would spend time promoting a book based on shady anonymous sources and false information, instead of all the incredible work Jared and Ivanka are doing for the country. The author, on her own website, listed this book in the category of 'fiction' -- until recently changing it. Her initial representation was accurate."

Ward told ABC News that she was "slightly surprised" that Sanders had picked up on an error, which had initially mis-categorized her book as fiction on her personal website, but was corrected two months ago.

"I was amazed that Sarah Sanders or somebody in the White House thought it worth their while two months ago to be looking at my website so closely," she said.

It is not surprising that Ward's book has prompted push back from those close to the president. In chapter after chapter, Ward makes the case that Ivanka Trump and her husband have plowed through protocols that for generations were aimed at preventing public servants from exploiting their power for personal enrichment.

"The book's main theme really is about two people who we all hoped, at the outset of this administration, would be the moral center of it -- would be moderating influences on a president known for his extreme character and extreme policies," Ward said.

"Most people go into government for public service," she said. "They do seem to have gone in for self-service."

Ward said that her book does not conclude that Kushner or his wife broke any laws.

"I'm not a prosecutor, I'm a journalist," she said. "I think that there are many threads that Kushner, Inc. throws up and it's then up to the prosecutors to see whether it's worth pulling on those threads."

She argued that one of her book's "biggest reveals" is a section that describes how Kushner allegedly pushed the president to fire then-FBI Director James Comey -- a decision that drew harsh criticism from Democrats who considered the dismissal an attempt to take legal pressure off the Trump administration.

In her wide-ranging discussion on "The Investigation," Ward said she recognized that many of the people who provided unflattering anecdotes about Kushner and Ivanka Trump did so after clashing with one or the other of the pair on the campaign or in the White House.

There are chapters that vividly depict contentious interactions between Kushner and Ivanka Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and economic adviser Gary Cohn.

"I am fully aware of all the different personal agendas and personal vendettas," she said. "I mean, one of the challenges when you report a book like this is not to take just one person's version of events."

She said she overcame that challenge by recounting scenes only when they had been described to her by more than one source.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.







ABC News Radio