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US prosecutors to say politics drove DoJ cases linked to Donald Trump – Financial Times



Two US prosecutors are set to testify on Wednesday that politics drove Department of Justice decisions in cases linked to Donald Trump.

The prepared testimony released on Tuesday includes a claim that a senior official at the justice department pushed for less jail time for Roger Stone, an ally of Mr Trump, because he was “afraid of the president”.

The claims also concern the antitrust division, where political leadership allegedly ordered an investigation of carmakers that had agreed emissions reductions with California just a day after Mr Trump had publicly criticised the companies.

The written testimony was released ahead of a House of Representatives judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday about the “improper politicisation” of the justice department under William Barr, the attorney-general, and Mr Trump.

It comes just days after a furore over Mr Barr’s sudden ousting of the Manhattan US attorney at the weekend. Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney, had overseen politically sensitive investigations of allies of the president.

Mr Barr has also faced claims he improperly moved to dismiss a case against Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser. A court is currently weighing whether to grant the dismissal.

Aaron Zelinsky, one of the prosecutors set to testify on Wednesday, helped secure the conviction at trial of Mr Stone for lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this year Mr Barr intervened to reverse the initial sentencing recommendation filed by Mr Zelinsky and three colleagues for 87-108 months in jail. Mr Stone was ultimately sentenced to 40 months.

A spokeswoman for Mr Barr said on Tuesday that he had viewed the original sentencing recommendation as “excessive and inconsistent with similar cases”. She said Mr Zelinsky’s account was based on “his own interpretation of events and hearsay (at best)”, rather than on discussions with Mr Barr or other top officials.

She added Mr Barr was committed “to the rule of law and the fair and impartial administration of justice”.

Also on Tuesday, Mr Stone asked the judge overseeing his case to allow him to delay reporting to prison from June 30 to September 3, citing the coronavirus pandemic. The justice department did not oppose the motion.

Mr Zelinsky and two of the other prosecutors quit the case after Mr Barr intervened, while a fourth, Jonathan Kravis, resigned from the department entirely in protest.

In his written testimony, Mr Zelinsky detailed the events surrounding Mr Stone’s sentencing in February. He said a supervisor in the US attorney’s office for the District of Columbia had initially praised the sentencing recommendation he and the other career prosecutors drafted.

But within days, he said, top officials began “exerting significant pressure” on his team “to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in [Mr Stone’s] trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction”.

Mr Zelinsky claimed he was told by supervisors that the pressure was for political reasons and that then-acting US attorney Timothy Shea, a former aide to Mr Barr who is now acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, was trying to go easy on Mr Stone because he was “afraid of the president”.

The DEA declined to comment.

The second prosecutor, John Elias, works in the antitrust division and had previously been chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, the Trump appointee who heads the division.

Mr Elias said in his written testimony that on August 22 2019, the political leadership of the antitrust division ordered an investigation of four carmakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — just a day after Mr Trump tweeted about them.

The president had criticised the companies for agreeing to emissions reductions with California that were stricter than rules his administration was attempting to push through at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The memo opening the inquiry had no staff recommendation, stating instead that the division “would like to open an investigation”, and was generated by policy lawyers at the division, rather than enforcement attorneys as would be typical, Mr Elias said.

“Here, in its opening memorandum, staff acknowledged that it had not fully examined the public record,” he said. When the investigation passed to enforcement staff, they “expressed concerns about the legal and factual basis” and asked to delay “going overt with the investigation”. 

“The investigation proceeded anyway, with [Mr] Delrahim personally writing [to] the automakers to inform them that the division had decided to examine the arrangement with California,” Mr Elias said. The inquiry was ultimately closed in February with no action taken.

Honda said: “As this matter is closed, we have nothing further to add.” Ford, Volkswagen and BMW also declined to comment on the allegations.

Mr Elias also alleged in his testimony that Mr Barr had ordered the division to review mergers in the cannabis industry because “he did not like the nature of their underlying business”, despite the view of staff attorneys that the deals posed no competition concerns.

He said the reviews were “not investigations of potential violations of federal drug law”, which still outlaws cannabis despite it being legal to some extent in many US states.

One of the investigations involved a proposed deal between MedMen and PharmaCann, according to Mr Elias. He said staff had judged it lawful, but were ordered by Mr Barr to conduct an extensive review.

The antitrust division “negotiated subpoena compliance with the companies, obtaining 1.3m documents from the files of 40 employees. The investigation confirmed that the markets at issue were ‘unconcentrated’ and closed in September 2019 without any enforcement action.”

Mr Elias added: “The merger collapsed nonetheless, with MedMen citing unexpected delays in obtaining regulatory approval.”

MedMen did not immediately respond to a request for comment. PharmaCann could not be immediately reached.

Mr Elias also said there were nine other investigations of cannabis deals driven by the political leadership at the antitrust division. He said staff were ordered not to interview customers or competitors, as normal “in any bona fide antitrust investigation”, so as not to draw attention.

In fiscal year 2019, in-depth reviews of cannabis mergers accounted for 29 per cent of all such deep dives, he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the antitrust division said the reviews of marijuana industry mergers had already been reviewed by the justice department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, “which determined that the division acted reasonably and appropriately”.

She said the OPR’s investigation came after a whistleblower filed a complaint and found “that the cannabis industry provided a unique challenge to federal and state regulators alike, and it was reasonable for [the antitrust division] to seek additional information from the industry through its [in-depth review] process”.

She added that the carmakers’ investigation “was entirely consistent with established policies and not the result of any influence from outside the department. Mr Elias’s testimony rests entirely upon his opinion and provides no evidence to the contrary.”

Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said it was “inexcusable for DoJ leadership to waste much-needed resources to harass [cannabis businesses], especially over the objections of their own staff”.

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President Donald Trump playing politics with the pandemic: experts – Global News



It’s been roughly five months since the United States was first introduced to a novel coronavirus, which would become commonly known as COVID-19 — the name of the disease caused by the virus.

Since then, a health crisis not seen in more than a century has become more and more politicized.

American cities and states have been forced to grapple with a constant unknown — exactly when this virus is going to spike or subside, leaving businesses, lawmakers and residents to approach each situation in one of two ways: with caution or defiance.

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Social distancing measures have been at the forefront of the attempt to slow the spread, and have been met with headwinds from lawmakers who feel government shouldn’t be telling people what to do.

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Like wear a mask.

Experts say U.S. President Donald Trump has turned the simple mitigation effort into a divisive political football, volleying back-and-forth on whether or not he thinks Americans should wear a mask while remaining steadfast in his inability to wear one in public.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trump says he wore face mask during factory tour, ‘didn’t want to give press pleasure’ of actually seeing it

Coronavirus outbreak: Trump says he wore face mask during factory tour, ‘didn’t want to give press pleasure’ of actually seeing it

“The fact that Trump is not wearing a mask fits his coalition beautifully,” says Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “They’re strongly anti-government. They’re opposed to rules from on high,” Sabato added, who noted that to Trump’s male supporters, “this is a question of machismo. Are they manly enough to go out without a mask on?”

Health experts fear the act of turning a potentially life-saving effort, like wearing a face-covering, into a political matter can lead to confusion in the general public.

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“It makes people feel (that) if they put a mask on, potentially they are defying the president,” said Sara Bleich, a public health policy professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Trump has said in the past that people who wear a mask could be doing so just to “signal disapproval” of him, but then changed his tune during an interview with Fox Business when he proclaimed he’s “all for masks.” Trump also admitted he would wear a mask in a small group setting.

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To date, Donald Trump has never been in front of a camera with a face-covering.

“If he were to do that simple thing, it would really encourage people to actually do the right thing,” said Bleich, echoing a comment from Lamar Alexander, a Republican and chair of the Senate Committee on Health, who said, “it would help if from time-to-time the president would wear one to help us get rid of this political debate.”

In the early weeks and months of this pandemic, masks were nearly non-existent during press briefings involving the president. Things started to change as the country experienced a significant second outbreak during this first wave. Lawmakers, notably Republicans, began to cover their faces when in public.

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Coronavirus: Republican Senate leader urges use of masks in public

Coronavirus: Republican Senate leader urges use of masks in public

The break in ranks within the GOP has left Trump as the odd man out, at a time when he needs as much public support as he can get. The 2020 election is fast approaching, and polls have put Democratic front-runner Joe Biden upwards of 10 points ahead of Trump.

Biden has repeatedly been seen wearing a mask but faces a firestorm of insults and comments for doing so, including in late May when he wore a black face-covering while attending a Memorial Day ceremony. That led to a comment from Trump that his political rival looked “unusual,” adding “he was standing outside with his wife, perfect conditions, perfect weather. They’re inside, they don’t wear masks.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Biden calls Trump a “fool” for retweet making fun of him wearing a mask

Coronavirus outbreak: Biden calls Trump a “fool” for retweet making fun of him wearing a mask

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has urged Americans to “wear cloth face coverings in public settings,” saying it prevents spread “especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

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There’s a strong party-line divide when it comes to wearing a mask in the United States. One study shows that more than seven in 10 Democrats (or 70 per cent) admit to wearing a mask when outdoors or in stores, compared to just 56 per cent of Republicans.

“It’s very concerning that something like a mask has somehow become an ideological partisan symbol instead of what it is, which is it literally saves your life,” said Dr. Leana Wen, former public health commissioner for the City of Baltimore.

Read more:
WHO recommends wearing masks in public, in updated guidelines

Concern has now prompted several states and municipalities, including some with Republican leaders, to implement a mask policy. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been seen in public with a face covering, has told all cities in his state that are reporting at least 20 cases to make masks mandatory. Heavily populated tourist areas including Myrtle Beach and Knoxville, Tenn., have also put similar policies in place.

No federal mandate exists in the United States to wear a mask; it is simply recommended by leading public health experts, including the surgeon general. That can muddy any effort to ensure public safety is a number one priority.

“Bottom line, this is not a confusing issue. We are in a pandemic. And if we want to prevent this pandemic and get people back to work and get kids back to school, people have to put their masks on,” said Bleich.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Politics, pandemics and Russian aluminum: why Canada faces fresh U.S. tariffs – CTV News



Why the United States chose to taint the debut of North America’s celebrated new trade deal by threatening fresh tariffs against Canadian aluminum, only President Donald Trump and trade emissary Robert Lighthizer can say for sure.

But industry insiders point to a convergence of disparate factors: COVID-19, international metals arbitrage, presidential politics and $16.3-billion worth of the stuff from Russia, the world’s second-largest producer.

Aluminum is one of the elemental components of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship, a bond forged in the blast furnace of the American war effort. Experts say smelters on both sides of the border stand to benefit from the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect Wednesday and imposes new requirements for regionally sourced metals.

Jean Simard, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association of Canada, is at a loss to understand why his industry is being targeted by the White House for the second time in two years. The U.S. has nowhere near the capacity to meet growing demand.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Simard said. “It’s like an oxymoron. It’s so contradictory to the spirit of USMCA.”

The answer may lie in how aluminum production works around the world, and how traders and marketers profit from it.

Because they traffic in white-hot liquid metal, aluminum smelters can’t simply shut down when demand for the product dries up, which is what happened to Canadian producers — who provide the bulk of the metal to U.S. markets — when the pandemic forced auto manufacturers to idle their assembly lines.

Smelters pivoted away from the specialized premium products demanded by the auto sector and instead produced the more generic primary aluminum known as P1020, shipping it to the only storage warehouses that are cost-effective, Simard said: facilities in the U.S., which is where the lion’s share of the North American aluminum market is located.

The ensuing “surge” in Canadian imports caught the attention of the U.S. trade representative’s office — or more specifically, the two U.S. producers that raised a red flag: Century Aluminum and Magnitude 7 Metals, which together comprise a Trump-friendly lobbying effort known as the American Primary Aluminum Association.

“The surge of Canadian metal has a caused the price to collapse and is endangering the future viability of the U.S. primary industry,” the association wrote to Lighthizer in May.

“Action — real action, not mere monitoring, and endless discussions in multinational fora — is needed now if the United States is to save what is left of its primary aluminum industry.”

A separate group — the Aluminum Association, which represents dozens of U.S. and international producers — disagrees, calling Canadian suppliers an integral element of the North American supply chain and a key component of the industry’s success.

Politics is undoubtedly a factor: two of Century’s four smelters are in Kentucky, while Magnitude 7 operates in Missouri, two states vital to Trump’s electoral fortunes.

“These are the states that keep campaign managers up at night,” said Gerald McDermott, an international business professor at the University of South Carolina.

A spokesman for the American Primary Aluminum Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Glencore Plc, a metals trader and producer based in Switzerland, holds a 47 per cent stake in Century. Magnitude 7, founded by a former Glencore aluminum trader, operates a single Missouri plant that won a new lease on life after Trump’s first round of tariffs in 2018, but which warned in February it was on the verge of shutting down.

And Glencore holds the exclusive rights to sell Russian-made aluminum in the U.S., having agreed in April to spend $16.3 billion over the next five years on up to 6.9 million tonnes of the metal from Rusal, the second-largest aluminum producer in the world.

Glencore is also a major player in the world of metals arbitrage — buying commodities at the lowest price possible, then shipping and storing them before selling on a futures contract in hopes of a higher price. The pandemic has fuelled a global collapse in the price of aluminum, Simard said, while the threat of tariffs has had the opposite effect.

“What do the traders do? They buy the metal at a very low price because the crisis is what brought you to pivot to this position, and they warehouse it when interest rates are very low because it’s a crisis,” Simard said.

“The key player over and above everybody else is Glencore.”

Rusal, once controlled by the Russian billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, was subject to U.S. sanctions since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 — sanctions that were lifted in January 2019 as part of an extensive restructuring that saw Deripaska relinquish control of the company. Glencore was involved, too, swapping shares in Rusal for a direct stake in its parent company, En+.

The USTR and the Trump administration “cannot be unaware of the corporate structure around Rusal and Glencore. I would doubt it very much,” said Simard.

A spokesman for Glencore declined to comment Friday.

The Canadian aluminum industry, the bulk of which is located in Quebec, owes its origins to soaring American demand for the metal in the months prior to the U.S. entry into the Second World War — a partnership that cemented Canada’s role in the continental military industrial base. Is the Trump administration trying to end that relationship?

“It’s worth raising the question,” Simard said.

Trump’s disdain for Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long been an open secret — “Trudeau’s a ‘behind-your-back’ guy,” former national security adviser John Bolton’s explosive new book quotes the president saying — and with an uphill battle for re-election looming, he may be looking to score political points, McDermott said.

“Why is the Trump administration doing what it’s doing? The short answer is it’s in a free fall,” he said.

“It’s got to show that it’s doing something for these Midwestern manufacturing states, and that means getting tough with non-U.S. people. What better thing, then, to piss off the Canadians?”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.

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A massive repudiation of Trump’s racist politics is building – The Washington Post



Those words seem prescient today, after four years of President Trump’s racism, from the “very fine people” marching with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville to, in just the past week, a “white power” retweet and a threat to veto defense spending to protect the names of Confederate generals; after a pandemic disproportionately ravaged African American communities while an indifferent president tried to move on; after Trump-allied demonstrators, some carrying firearms and Confederate flags, tried to “liberate” themselves from public health restrictions; after the video of George Floyd’s killing showed the world blatant police brutality; after Trump used federal firepower against peaceful civil rights demonstrators of all colors.

The reckoning Parker foresaw is now upon us. White women, disgusted by Trump’s cruelty, are abandoning him in large number. White liberals, stunned by the brazen racism, have taken to the streets. And signs point to African American turnout in November that will rival the record level of 2012, when Obama was on the ballot. This, by itself, would flip Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to Democrats, an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress shows.

Surprisingly high Democratic turnout in recent contests in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky and Colorado points to the possibility of a building wave. The various measures of Democratic enthusiasm suggest “turnout beyond anything we’ve seen since 1960,” University of North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington predicts. If so, that would mean a historic repudiation of Trump, who knows his hope of reelection depends on low turnout. He has warned that mail-in ballots and other attempts to encourage more voting would mean “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

That may not be wrong. Trump has accelerated a decades-old trend toward parties redefining themselves by race and racial attitudes. Racial resentment is now the single most important factor driving Republicans and Republican-leaning movers, according to extensive research, most recently by Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov at the University of Michigan — more than religion, culture, class or ideology. An ongoing study by University of North Carolina researchers finds that racial resentment even drives hostility toward mask-wearing and social distancing. Conversely, racial liberalism now drives Democrats of all colors more than any other factor.

Consider just one yardstick, a standard question of racial attitudes in which people are asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”

In 2012, 56 percent of white Republicans agreed with that statement, according to the American National Election Studies. The number grew in 2016 with Trump’s rise, to 59 percent. Last month, an astonishing 71 percent of white Republicans agreed, according to a YouGov poll written by Parker and conducted by GQR (where my wife is a partner).

The opposite movement among white Democrats is even more striking. In 2012, 38 percent agreed that African Americans didn’t try hard enough. In 2016, that dropped to 27 percent. And now? Just 13 percent.

To the extent Trump’s racist provocation is a strategy (rather than simply an instinct), it is a miscalculation. The electorate was more than 90 percent white when Richard Nixon deployed his Southern strategy; the proportion is now 70 percent white and shrinking. But more than that, Trump’s racism has alienated a large number of white people.

“For many white Americans, the things Trump is saying and getting away with, they just didn’t think they lived in a world where that could happen,” says Vincent Hutchings, a political scientist specializing in public opinion at the University of Michigan. Racist appeals in particular alienate white, college-educated women, and even some women without college degrees, he has found: “One of the best ways to exacerbate the gender gap isn’t to talk about gender but to talk about race.”

Trump’s racism has also emboldened white Democrats, who have often been on the losing end of racial politics since George H.W. Bush deployed Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis in 1988. “They’re embracing the racial issues they used to cower on in decades past,” Hetherington says.

This is what Parker had in mind when he wrote in 2016 that Trump could be “good for the United States.” The backlash Trump provoked among whites and nonwhites alike “could kick off a second Reconstruction,” Parker now thinks. “I know it sounds crazy, especially coming from a black man,” he says, but “I think Trump actually is one of the best things that’s happened in this country.”

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