Pardon me, but is this tell the truth week?

As part of Donald Trump’s effort to Make America Great Again, the White House has been featuring various weekly themes that highlight all the great work of the administration. Editor’s note: the weekly themed approach was the brainchild of whoever was running the White House communications department at the time, but there is a new Mooch in town so things may change.

Among the weekly themes we have seen are so far are:

  • Infrastructure Week, intended to show how the rebuilding of America’s roads, bridges and airports would add millions of jobs. Highlight of the week: FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to Congress
  • Energy Week, intended to demonstrate that Rick Perry knew what department he had wanted to eliminate and had subsequently been appointed secretary of. Highlight of the week: Trump sort of admits to Russian interference in the election and blames Obama
  • Workforce Development Week, intended to show how getting people into apprenticeships would help people get new skills for employment. Highlight of the week: Trump’s 2018 budget announcement that would gut various federal departments, including training programs
  • Made in America Week, intended to show how Ivanka Trump’s line of clothes are made in Asia. Okay, so that was not the intended purpose. Highlight of the week: The Senate’s inability to repeal and replace Obamacare

So here we are in the week of July 24th. Jared Kushner testified privately to investigators of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and with House Intelligence Committee representatives on Tuesday. Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort were supposed to appear publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee today but for now there will be private interviews.  So what better week to declare it Tell the Truth Week©?

Tell the Truth Week© will feature various Trumpkins pretending to tell the truth. Kushner has hired some high-priced lawyers and public relations consultants to advise him on how to tell the truth. He might do somewhat better than Donald Jr. and Paul. The latter two have the apparent disadvantage of having been already thrown under the bus by Jared, who got to a congressional committee before they did.

Jared began Tell the Truth Week© by releasing an eleven page opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He informed the committee that he “did not collude” with that woman, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Nor did he collude with Russian lobbyist Rinat Akmetshin. Nor did he collude with the Russian banker Sergey Gorkov. Nor did he collude with Russian money launderer Ike Kaveladze. Nor did he twice collude with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And Kushner only suggested using Russian facilities to communicate with Moscow because Russian generals did not want to come to America to talk.

Jared explained that the revisions to his 100-page SF-86 Security Clearance Form were necessary because a careless assistant answered questions untruthfully under penalty of falsifying the document, which is felony carrying a five-year term in federal prison. Jared failed to note that he signed the false documents in four places. I can hardly wait to hear that assistant’s testimony about the Security Clearance Form.

Separately Jared also has had problems explaining why his family continues to promote Chinese investments in Kushner properties by noting that Jared is, after all, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor. He also seems to have forgotten the stuff about getting a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank, which itself is in trouble for some money-laundering matters with the Russians.

And then there is the question about the campaign’s demographic and analytic information that Jared supervised. There’s certainly no reason to think that the straight-laced Jared might ever slip such information to the Russians, whose hackers seem to have had amazing insight into which states and counties to dump their fake news into social media during the election.

No siree, no colluding with Russia on Jared’s part. Nyet.

Then there is Don Jr., whose email chain had the subject line “Russian – Clinton – personal and confidential” helped get Kushner invited to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Don Jr. fessed up to things day after day, adding additional Russian characters to the famous meeting as he went along – sort of like a Russian nesting doll.

And let’s not forget Paul Manafort. Manafort graciously took no salary from the Trump campaign, which he joined fresh off his multi-million dollar deals with the Ukrainians who are Putin buddies. More recently Sean Spicer tried to describe the former campaign manager as a short-term volunteer on the campaign. Just why was Paul buying up housing around the country after getting paid millions from Ukrainians (or Russians)? Money laundering sounds like a good possibility there. But then Manafort’s real estate deals were small potatoes compared with the $95 million sale of a piece of Palm Beach Florida property by Trump Senior to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev.

And of course there is good old Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General of these United States of America, our premier defender of America law. Jeff plum forgot all sorts of details about his meetings with the Russkies. Heck, he couldn’t even remember that he had such meetings with them, what with his responsibilities helpin’ to run the Trump campaign and all. Trump is showing his gratitude now by pushing Sessions out the door, probably to get rid of the Robert Mueller investigation into the Russian mess.

I won’t get into lesser Trumpkins like Carter Page, who like other small role Trump-hangers-on lusts for attention, any attention, which often leads Page to tell about his Russian dealings, minor though they might have been.

Thinking about all of these Trumpkin twists and turns, at least Michael Flynn tried to get immunity to testify about what he knows.

And to be sure that she is not left out of the limelight we have Kellyanne Conway saying pay no attention to the Russian bear behind the curtain. Look at all the shiny objects that we left on the table. Even Congressman Chris Collins was brought back into Trump service to try to minimize the Russia thing.

As we move to the completion of Tell the Truth Week© we are left to ponder why, if there is no real Russia problem, is there all this talk about pardons? One of Trump’s defense team, Andrew Sekulow, said on ABC “[w]e have not, and I continue to not, have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons.” For those who learned their English style and form in the last century, re-read that sentence and try to diagram it.

Of course on the same day as Sekulow’s comments, newly appointed communications director Anthony (“the Mooch”) Scaramucci told Fox News, referring to pardons, “I’m in the Oval Office with the president last week, we’re talking about that — he brought that up.” So is Sekulow lying or is the Mooch, or are they both telling the truth and is it just POTUS who is again talking out of both sides of his mouth?

To my Republican friends who have read this far into this post, I kind of, sort of feel bad for you. Now that your party controls all of Washington it seems appropriate to expect that you would get the legislative package you yearn for. But with every passing day Obamacare repeal becomes less likely, Trumpcare is on the horizon, tax reform may or may not get approved after being skinnied-down, and immigration controls will be limited. There will be some problems with passing the 2018 federal budget and extending the debt limit.

Most of all, you have Twittering Donny hanging around the party’s neck, uncontrollable and doing damage to the party brand on a daily basis. But at least he is your president. Good luck.

July campaign financial reports are filed; speculation about Western District federal appointments

July 15th was the deadline for political committees in New York State to file their periodic financial reports. Committees involved with an active election campaign this year will be required to file several additional 2017 reports starting in August.

Compared with past experience, the election campaigns that are being fought this year are publicly pretty mild. The work of collecting and filing nominating petitions is complete. Organizing fundraisers and getting voter recruitment and get-out-the-vote programs set up is, or at least should be, well underway and mostly out of view of the general public that is not much interested in local political things in the middle of July. Here are the financial highlights of the major local campaigns to date.

Mayor of Buffalo

The marquee race this year is for Mayor of Buffalo. Mayor Byron Brown is seeking his 4th term. His challengers are City Comptroller Mark Schroeder and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

As the incumbent, Brown started the race with financial and organizational advantages over his opponents. Financially the Brown lead in campaign funds remains substantial, with his current bankroll more than four times larger than Schroeder’s.

As of July 15th the Mayor’s political committee had a balance of $518,826. He raised $439,292 in the past six months from a large variety of individuals and corporations. Strangely, the Brown report includes 39 pages of fairly large contributions, totaling $251,443 that lists only addresses but no names. The Brown committee spent $261,085, with the biggest expenses for polling and fundraising.

Schroeder has a balance of $118,115, with his six months of fundraising producing $115,592. His committee spent $154,537, with the largest expenditures paid to a Los Angeles consultant and polling expenses.

Betty Jean Grant does not have a mayoral campaign committee registered with the State Board of Elections. Grant’s county legislative committee balance is only $7,227. She raised $6,240 since January and spent $4,678.

There are also candidates who have submitted petitions for the Republican, Conservative and Green Party nominations. No one at this point in time has any reason to take those candidates seriously. The Republican and Conservative candidates might only be “placeholders” who may later decline the nominations to be replaced by another candidate. Mark Schroeder has filed Reform Party petitions. There are 16 registered Reform Party voters in the City of Buffalo.

Erie County races

There are five countywide races on the ballot this year. Here is a rundown of the financial reports from the major candidates in those election contests:

  • Sheriff – Incumbent Republican Tim Howard is being challenged by Democrat Bernie Tolbert. Howard has $138,539 in his campaign treasury. He raised $92,650 during the past six months. Tolbert has $41,742 available. He loaned his committee $25,000.
  • County Clerk – This position has been vacant since Chris Jacobs assumed his new office of State Senator in January. Peggy LaGree, formerly the First Deputy Clerk, has been holding down the fort as Acting County Clerk. The endorsed Democratic candidate is Steve Cichon, who for many years served as a reporter and then news director at WBEN Radio. The Republican and Conservative Party candidate is Assemblyman Mickey Kearns. As of July 15th political newcomer Cichon had raised $16,848 and has $14,216 in the bank. Kearns has a balance of $27,380. He raised $17,149 for the Clerk campaign since January. It is likely that before this campaign is over the Democratic and Republican Party organizations will spend heavily to win the office. This election is only for the final year of Jacobs’ term in office as Clerk. The office will be on the ballot again for a full four year term in 2018.
  • Comptroller – Incumbent Republican Stefan Mychajliw is seeking his second full term in the office. The Democrat is CPA and attorney Vanessa Grushefski. Mychajliw has a campaign account balance of $90,441, having raised $32,525 since January. Grushefski has $15,817 in her account, having raised $20,577 thus far.
  • County Court Judge – Democrat Susan Eagan, who has filed petitions in all parties, is the only candidate running for this office. This is somewhat of a mystery since the office comes with a ten year term and a very generous salary. Nonetheless Eagan has a campaign committee with a balance of $38,525. She has raised $39,934 and has received a $10,000 loan from Jim and Sue Eagan.  Whatever she cannot spend on her campaign or by donating to the political parties or to other candidates will need to be refunded after the election.
  • County Surrogate Court Judge – there is also only one candidate for this judicial seat, Acea Mosey, who has served as the Court’s Administrator for the past several years under retiring Judge Barbara Howe. Mosey is endorsed by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties and has filed petitions for the other parties’ nominations. Her committee has a campaign balance of $750,832. She raised $379,201 since January, and loaned the committee another $300,000, bringing the total of her personal loans to $450,000. Like Eagan and all judicial candidates, there will be lots of refund checks going out from the Mosey campaign after November. Acea Mosey is well qualified for the office of Surrogate Judge and this race has essentially been over since last year. So the only question, when looking at all the money she has raised and loaned to her campaign is: “why?”

State Supreme Court

There are two positions of Justice of the Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District to be filled this year. There is one incumbent – Appellate Court Justice Erin Peradotto. Democratic and Republican Party leaders have come together to propose cross-endorsements for Justice Peradotto, who is a registered Republican, and Lynn Keane, a Democrat. Keane is currently the Town Justice in Orchard Park. She narrowly lost an election to the Supreme Court last year.

Assuming the respective party nominating conventions go along with the Erie County chairmen in September we are only going through the formalities here. Peradotto has a committee fund balance of $101,708. Keane has not as yet created a 2017 committee.

Town of Amherst

For now I’ll just leave this as a list of campaign committee balances with no editorial comments (except that Republican State Chairman Ed Cox contributed $250 to Erin Baker):

  • Democrat for Supervisor – Brian Kulpa $4,070
  • Republican for Supervisor – Marjory Jaeger $31,465
  • Democrat for Council – Jacqualine Berger $2,939
  • Democrat for Council – Shawn Lavin $1,092
  • Republican for Council – Erin Baker $56,800
  • Republican for Council – Joseph Spino $7,449
  • Republican for Council – Christopher Drongosky – no committee registered
  • Conservative for Council – William Kindel – no Council committee registered

O’Donnell for New York

The O’Donnell for New York committee was set up in 2005 in anticipation of a 2006 race for state attorney general. Denise O’Donnell was to have been the committee’s candidate.  She dropped out after the state Democratic Party Convention in the spring of 2006.

Aside from preliminary campaign expenses for the race that was never run, the main beneficiaries of the committee’s largesse have been the re-election campaign of her State Supreme Court Justice husband John O’Donnell and her lobbyist/political consultant son Jack.

As of July 15th the O’Donnell for New York committee had a balance in its treasury of $280,776. It spent $268 on bank and IRS fees since January. Bank interest produced $405 in new revenues. In total this committee has raised $1,122,670 since 2005. You can read further information about this committee in a previous posting on this blog.

Garner update

A previous post mentioned the political income that political operative Maurice Garner had collected in recent years. 2017 is not going as well. His Urban Visions and Garner Associates collected nothing in the past six months. His Urban Chamber of Commerce organization, one of three locations raided by the FBI and State Police last month, collected a total of $650 since January from the committees of Acea Mosey, Byron Brown and Joel Giambra.

Speculation about Trump administration appointments in the Western District of New York

The most obvious and significant local political appointments that follow from the election of a new president are the positions of federal judge, United States attorney and United States marshal. Word on the street is that Republicans in Western New York have settled on their choices for those offices in the Western District of New York.

For judge the person moving forward is Amy Habib Rittling, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman. The role that Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand might play in consideration of the nomination is not known. This appointment would fill a long term vacancy on the Court.

For U.S. attorney speculation centers around Hodgson Russ partner John Sinatra. Sinatra is the brother of developer and Bush 43 appointee Nick Sinatra. The U.S. attorney’s position has been vacant since William Hochul resigned last fall.

The choice for U.S. marshal, according to circulating reports, is Peter Vito. Vito served as Commissioner of Central Police Services in the administration of then County Executive Chris Collins. Normally the U.S. marshal’s position in the Western District goes to someone from Monroe County if the U.S. attorney is from Erie County.

Actual presidential nominations and congressional action on these appointments will depend on how such things fit into the schedules of the Trump administration and Congress. At the moment they seem to be pretty busy with other things.

Republicans challenging Republicans

It was not supposed to be like this. Republican Party leaders in Washington and throughout the country railed against Obamacare for seven years, wanted to take a butcher’s knife to entitlements such as Medicaid, and most of all, planned major changes in the tax code to make the rich richer.

We need a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, they said. With substantial stirred-up opposition to Obamacare and the considerable help of gerrymandered districts, with some voter suppression thrown in for good measure, the Republicans in 2010 won the House.  In the subsequent elections they increased their majority to the largest number for the party in decades.

We need a Republican majority in the Senate, they said. As in House races, the significant opposition to Obamacare fueled the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014.

And finally, we need a Republican president to sign all the great roll-back legislation that will be passed, they said. With 80,000 well-positioned votes in three key states and with some help from Vladimir Putin, the party elected Donald Trump president.  So finally all the pieces of the puzzle were assembled to legislate a conservative revolution.

By changing the rules of the Senate the Republicans were able to put a far-right justice on the Supreme Court. Trump has signed executive orders by the dozens, but most of them were for show.  Cabinet members who have best demonstrated their mettle by a go-around-the-table show of ass-kissing were appointed.  Some of them still seem to have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time.  It reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles when Governor LePetomane signed legislation creating the William J. LePetomane Gambling Casino for the Insane and then complained that one of the members of his cabinet didn’t give him an honorific “harrumph.”

The one Trump appointee who seems to be having a grand old time, from his point of view, is Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt. He is moving at break-neck speed to do everything he can to turn over “environmental protection” to the oil and coal companies and the Brothers Koch.

When it comes to real legislating, however, 2017 has so far not been a bang-up year for the Party. House Republicans failed in their first attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, and then just squeaked by in passing the bill that even Trump described as “mean,” a bill that had the support of 16 percent of the American people.

Now it is the Senate’s turn. The bill that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed on the table is not any more popular than the House version.  The two wings of the Party have spent the past two weeks staking out their positions and sniping at the other side.  The Independence Day recess seems to have made it even less likely that a bill can be passed and sent to Trump before the August recess.  (Doesn’t it seem that all the congressional recesses make them appear like an elementary school?)

The dreamers like Speaker Paul Ryan still talk like everything is going as planned, with tax reform and infrastructure spending teed up and ready to proceed just as soon as the “repeal and replace” bill is taken care of. I doubt that Ryan, McConnell or other party leaders really think they can thread all of the needles that need to be threaded to get all that legislation through.

As important as those priorities may be, they will get trumped by two more, at this time, more important, urgent, can’t possibly be delayed issues. Raising the debt ceiling and passing a 2018 federal budget cannot be put off for long, and as Trump might say, they are complicated issues.  Who knew?

In both the upcoming debt ceiling and budget debates the Republican Party’s two bases will be challenging one another severely. The far-right, having grown comfortable with the luxury of not being in control of all the levers of government, may want to use the two financial issues to impose their machete-like will on domestic spending and will insist on major cuts as their price for support.  The establishment wing of the party, particularly those representing urban and suburban constituencies, will resist that approach.

We have seen this show before. After the two wings of the Republican Party fail to agree on the debt ceiling and the budget, the despised House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will be brought in to rescue the whatever limited number of Republican members of Congress who are prepared to raise the debt ceiling and pass a budget.  This is why John Boehner is sitting somewhere at pool side, with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of merlot in the other.

So that is a summary of how Republicans are challenging Republicans in Washington. There seems to be an even more interesting intramural party show playing out far removed from Washington.

In Kansas the Republican controlled State Legislature overrode vetoes of new taxes and spending by Governor and soon-to-be-ambassador-to-somewhere-far-removed-from-Topeka Sam Brownback. Basically they are reversing Brownback’s let-a-state-show-how-real-Republican-tax-cutting-philosophy can work in practice.  What’s the matter with Kansas?

Similar challenges and legislative fights have also broken out in other states including Arkansas and South Carolina.

Even more interesting than the state legislative challenges is the response of states around the country to the request by Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for extensive data about voters’ names, middle names or initials, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, party registration, voting history, portions of voters’ social security numbers and other assorted things such as felony convictions and military status.

In one form or another forty-four states thus far, including those managed by Republicans as well as those managed by Democrats, are declining to provide any information other than what is already available on the websites of appropriate state offices, usually the secretaries of state. The Commission effort is being led by the Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has made a career out of conjuring up false voter fraud theories and then pushing efforts to suppress voting.

Some of the states’ responses to the Kobach request for the data have been just polite denials. Others, however, have been more energetic.  My favorite was the answer from the Republican Secretary of State in Mississippi, Delbert Hosemann, who told Kobach and company that they “can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

The thought of all the requested data being funneled into some computer server in the White House is frightening. I could see at a future Trump-Putin meeting (okay, I couldn’t see it, just imagine it) where Trump shakes Putin’s hand and slips him something as Trump mumbles “you’ll like what you find on this flash drive, Vlad.”

The skirmishes that have occurred in Washington concerning proposed legislation have mostly seen Republicans acting politely to one another and to Trump. How that might change if the key first year of the Trump administration fades away with no legislative achievements will be very interesting.

But even more interesting is how Republicans in the states are standing up to and defying Trump and his Commission. This action will probably not be replicated in other matters, but open differences at this stage are rather remarkable.

Democrats have much more of a history of intra-party fights and there will be some new fighting coming up. But having the Republicans control all the levers of power and then dividing up into two openly warring factions is a fascinating political development.  Democrats are warned:  do not overdose on schadenfreude.

Chris Collins, stockbroker?

Chris Collins began his public career when he was elected Erie County Executive in 2007. He served one term and lost his bid for re-election to Mark Poloncarz. Then opportunity knocked.

Congressman Chris Lee got into a minor personal scandal and decided to resign, leading to a special election in May 2011. County Clerk Kathy Hochul was elected to succeed Lee in Congress. In 2012 new congressional districts needed to be drawn but the State Legislature punted on their responsibilities, which led to a New York City judge drawing the new congressional lines. In Western New York the newly drawn districts resulted in Hochul’s new district becoming the most Republican affiliated in the state.

Which led to Collins’ second try for a congressional seat. He had lost an election to Congressman John LaFalce in the 1990’s. The Hochul-Collins campaign was a tough and expensive one which Collins won by a very small margin. Continue reading