Email #331: “the unfair estate tax”?

According to the Republican tax plan revealed yesterday, the estate tax will be eliminated immediately for inheritances smaller than $11 million (double the current cut-off), and then after six years eliminated for all inheritances no matter how large.

Anticipating this proposed change, you said on September 29:

“I am also pleased to see an elimination of the death tax, which unfairly targets family farms and small business owners.”

You are either grossly misinformed or this is an intentional lie. The estate does not target family farms and small businesses. It hardly affects any family farms and small businesses at all.

President Trump made the same lie two days earlier in his September 27 speech in Indianapolis:

“To protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer, we are finally ending the crushing, the horrible, the unfair estate tax, or as it is often referred to, the death tax.”

Currently the estate tax only applies to the 5,460 Americans whose estates are worth more than $5.43 million. How many of those millionaires are family farmers? According to Political Fact-Check: only 16-24 total estates. That’s why the website gave Bill Maher a “Mostly True” rating when he said: “More astronauts have been to the moon than farmers who paid the inheritance tax in 2013.”

According to the Tax Policy Center, only a total 80 farms and small businesses will pay the estate tax in 2017. But the President said he wanted to repeal it in order to protect “millions of small businesses and the American farmer.” Describing 80 as a minimum of 2,000,000 is not merely an exaggeration. It is a lie.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 27.9 million small businesses in the U.S. in 2010. Even if you don’t subtract the 16-24 family farms, the difference between 80 and 27,900,000 is even greater than the President’s lie. The overwhelming majority of small businesses are not affected by the estate tax. And yet you say they are the “targets”?

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, repealing the estate tax will cost about $270 billion in lost revenue over the next ten years. Farms and small businesses will account for less than 1/5th of 1% of that total. Repealing the tax will not help “family farms and small business owners.” It will instead help the multi-millionaires the tax currently targets.

Why are you so desperate to repeal the estate tax that you are willing to tell such verifiable lies?

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Email #330: “who exactly was helping them”?

Press Secretary Sanders said Monday:

“There’s clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election.”

The lie is exceptional not simply because Sanders was responding to questions about the special counsel indictments of Trump campaign members on Monday, but also because of Monday’s congressional hearings on the role of internet companies in Russia’s interference in the election.

The Clinton campaign hired a U.S. firm that employed a former British intelligence agent to investigate Donald Trump’s activities in Russia, producing a dossier of unsubstantiated claims that was not made public until after election and so influenced no voters. But simultaneously, Russia was successfully exploiting U.S. internet companies to reach a wide range of American voters. As of this week, we now know:

126 million Facebook users saw 80,000 pieces of Russian propaganda, including over $100,000 worth of ads.

2,752 Russian-owned Twitter accounts posted 131,000 tweets, and 36,000 Russian bots posted 1.4 million tweets, receiving 288 million views.

Russia’s 1,108 YouTube videos received 309,000 views.

Russia created 170 Instagram accounts and 120,000 posts.

When asked whether the Russian content influenced the election, a Facebook lawyer answered:  “Senator, we’re not well positioned to judge why any one person or an entire electorate voted as it did.” The corporations’ lawyers also did not know how Russia targeted their propaganda, some of which reached precise subsets of voters in small swing districts.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said previously:

“I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots. Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware [of] really raises some questions.… How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions? The Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play.”

Former Obama administration assistant secretary of defense Mike Carpenter told Vanity Fair:

“Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible. But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

Presumably special counsel Mueller is investigating Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm employed by the Trump campaign which has worked directly with multiple Russian businesses in the past. Jared Kushner coordinated with Cambridge Analytica while managing the Trump campaign’s voter-targeting data operations with Brad Parscale.

But regardless of any further outcomes from the special counsel investigation, Senators Warner, Klobuchar, and McCain have introduced the bipartisan “Honest Ads Act,” which would require internet companies to disclose who pays for political ads distributed on their platforms. The information–including the purchaser’s contact information, ad price, target audience, and number of views—would be available on a public database.

When asked at the hearings, none of the executives said they supported the bill. Republican Senator Collins reminded them during yesterday’s hearing:

“You have a special obligation here given your reach in American society.”

Senator Feinstein agreed:

“You bear this responsibility. You’ve created these platforms. And now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”

Republican Senator and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Burr agreed too:

“This is about national security. This is about corporate responsibility. And this is about the deliberate and multi-faceted manipulation of the American people by agents of a hostile foreign power.”

Since Facebook is one of the largest contributors to your election campaign, does that mean you will oppose the Honest Ads Act?

Email #329: “end of us as a party”?

According to an October Gallup survey, 84% of Americans think “the most important problem facing America today” is non-economic, and dissatisfaction with poor government leadership tops the list at 20%. Of the 17% who think the most important problem is economic, unemployment and the state of the economy in general each hit 5%, and the national debt 4%.

Only 2% named taxes.

And yet you and other Republicans in Congress have made taxes your number one issue. I understand that, despite the distraction of the special counsel indictments on Monday and the death of eight people in a terrorist attack in New York yesterday, Congressional leaders are releasing their full tax bill today.

My main confusion is how tax cuts became so much more important to you than the national debt. Despite decades of criticizing Democrats for deficit spending, both House and Senate Republicans voted for a budget blueprint that would raise the national debt by $1.5 trillion. It passed by only two votes in the Senate and four in the House. Only twenty House Republicans and one Republican Senator opposed the resolution, including the conservative House Liberty Caucus. Rep. Gaetz said members were “asked to vote for a budget that nobody believes in so that we have the chance to vote for a tax bill that nobody’s read.” Centrist budget hawk Rep. Jenkins agreed: “We should be passing a budget that reforms mandatory spending and balances over time.”

Why were you not one these principled critics? You have spent a quarter century advocating for debt reduction and balanced budgets, but when the defining issue of your career conflicted with tax cuts, you went with tax cuts.

The deficit grew by $666 billion in 2017. That’s $80 billion more than in 2016. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the national debt will rise $10 trillion over the next ten years. That’s based on current projections, but if the tax cuts are passed, the projections are significantly worse. The CBO recommended two actions: cut spending and increase revenues. Instead the budget blueprint decreases revenue by $1.5 trillion and only makes suggestions for spending cuts—ones that will be nearly impossible to enact afterwards. Do you believe Americans will accept cutting $470 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid?

And yet you voted for the resolution, ignoring the following argument:

“It is a simple concept — you can’t spend more than you take in.  Business owners, individuals and families all across this country understand this concept and live by it in their own lives.  They should expect nothing less from the federal government and yet Congress continues to prove it cannot make the tough decisions on its own.  We must rein in the skyrocketing deficit spending that is discouraging investment and threatening to bankrupt our nation.”

You wrote that. The paragraph appears on the “Fiscal Responsibility” page, which still also refers to President Obama as though he were still in office, continuing evidence that you no longer care about balancing the budged and reducing the debt.

You of course are not alone in embracing the GOP’s new policy of fiscal irresponsibility. Rep. Black, chair of the House Budget Committee, criticized the budget blueprint when it was still in the Senate, tweeting: “What part of ‘cut spending’ does @SenateGOP not understand?” And yet she, like you, still voted for it in the House last Friday.

Senator Graham endorsed it out of fear of angry voters: “This is the last, best chance we will have to cut taxes. That will be the end of us as a party, because if you’re a Republican and you don’t want to simplify the tax code and cut taxes, what good are you to anybody?”

But only 2% of voters are calling for tax cuts, while 20% want better leadership from their government, making the GOP tax plan a double failure. Will you continue to support it?

Email #328: “NO COLLUSION”?

President Trump tweeted yesterday morning in response to special counsel Mueller’s indictment of three Trump campaign members:

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????? ….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

The President seemed remarkably pleased to learn that his former campaign manager is a multi-million-dollar money launderer and foreign agent who repeatedly lied to the Justice Department. After joining the President’s campaign in March 2016, Manafort managed it from May until August when he stepped down after his involvement with pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians became public. Manafort also attended the June meeting with the Russian lawyer who offered Donald Trump, Jr. damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Rick Gates, Manafort’s junior party who is facing the same criminal charges, remained with the campaign and later helped to direct the inauguration.

Although Manafort and Gates’ money laundering and tax fraud pre-dates their involvement in the Trump campaign, the special counsel also indicted the President’s former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about meeting with Russian contacts. A London professor connected to the Kremlin told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russian government wished to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton with the Trump campaign:

“During this meeting, the Professor told defendant that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials. The professor told defendant that on that trip he (the professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The professor told defendant Papadopoulos, as Papadopoulos later described to the FBI, that ‘they have dirt on her’; ‘the Russians had emails on Clinton’; ‘they have thousands of emails.'”

The meeting, which also included a Russian ambassador and Putin’s niece, occurred after Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign and two months before it was known that Russia had hacked DNC emails. Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying about the meeting, establishing the first official verification that a member of the Trump campaign was involved in Russia’s interference in the election. Moreover, Papadopoulos made his Russian connections known to “high-ranking campaign officials,” a “campaign supervisor,” and even to Donald Trump himself. Papadopoulos attended a national security meeting with Donald Trump on March 31, 2016, offering to “help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”

Press Secretary Sanders said yesterday afternoon: “I’m not sure that the president recalls specific details of the meeting.” She also acknowledged that Gates and President Trump had “some initial contact after the president was sworn in.” But, like the President, she insisted the indictments were insignificant: “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity. We’ve been saying from Day 1 there’s been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all.”

While the Papadopoulos indictment is not itself evidence of collusion, it significantly widens the possibility and justifies the continuation of the special counsel investigation. Because of prior concerns that President Trump could fire the special counsel as he fired FBI Director Comey last spring, Republican Senator Graham is co-sponsoring a bill that would require any President to obtain a judge’s approval first. Republican Senator Tillis is also co-sponsoring another bipartisan bill that would provide special counsels a means to challenge a dismissal in court. Graham said yesterday afternoon: “We’re talking with the other sponsors and seeing if it’s the sort of thing that can get support.”

Will you support either of these bills or do you think President Trump should be free to fire special counsels?

Email #327: “evil politics”?

The President tweeted on Friday:

“It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”

Ignoring the extraordinarily false statement that any of the ongoing investigations have concluded that there was no collusion, Press Secretary Sanders made the same accusation against Hillary Clinton:

“if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election look no further than the Clintons and the DNC. Hypocrisy at the highest level and a new low in politics. Everything the Clinton campaign and DNC were falsely accusing the president of doing the past year they were doing it themselves.”

The issue revolves around the dossier of 17 memos produced by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele between June and October 2016. Steele worked for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm contracted by an as-yet-unnamed GOP donor during the primaries. The Clinton campaign hired the firm in June. Steele collected a range of unsubstantiated information regarding Donald Trump’s connections to Russia, including that he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail for having sex with prostitutes while in Moscow and that he was colluding with Russia to influence the election. The memos do not identify Steel’s sources nor provide any evidence for their claims.

Michael Cohen, the President’s attorney, said in January when the dossier was made public: “It’s so ridiculous on so many levels. Clearly, the person who created this did so from their imagination or did so hoping that the liberal media would run with this fake story for whatever rationale they might have.” But the Washington Post, an alleged leader of the liberal media, dismissed the dossier too, calling it “high-grade gossip.”

When subpoenaed to testify earlier this month before the House Intelligence Committee—which, unlike you House Judiciary Committee, is investigating these matters—two Fusion GPS executives invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than self-incriminate. President Trump responded by tweet:

“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?”

The dossier was paid for by the Clinton campaign. That’s not in question. It’s literally how Fusion GPS stays in business. If the information in the dossier is “fake,” then Fusion GPS cheated the Clinton campaign.

So then on what grounds do the President and Press Secretary Sanders accuse Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia? Where is the “hypocrisy”? What “new low” do they mean? The White House’s counter accusation–“Everything the Clinton campaign and DNC were falsely accusing the president of doing the past year they were doing it themselves”–is at best illogical and at worst an act of deliberate misinformation to distract from other investigations.

Yesterday morning the President expanded his accusations on Twitter:

“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”

Is it coincidental that the President’s rhetoric reaches its newest low mark–he’s not accused Democrats of “evil” before–just as news sources are reporting that special counsel Mueller is about to make his first criminal indictments as early as today?

In contrast to the President Trump, Republican Senator Portman, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday: “We ought to instead focus on the outrage that the Russians meddled in our elections.”

Do you agree with the Senator or with the President?

Email #326: “smoking gun”?

You said last Tuesday: “It is not every day in congressional investigations that we find a smoking gun. Here, we have it.”

The “gun” was Justice Department emails from 2014 regarding the use of money that it obtains from corporate wrongdoers that settle lawsuits by paying fines. You said these “internal DOJ documents” show that “the donation provisions were structured to aid the Obama administration’s political friends and exclude conservative groups.” The emails specifically show that this structuring was accomplished by Associate Attorney General Tony West who was thanked by groups who received funds.

Attorney General Sessions ended the “slush fund” last June, saying:

“When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people — not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power. Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement. With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.”

I agree with the Attorney General, and I thank you for leading the House Judiciary Committee in this worthwhile investigation that produced useful results.

However, I am confused by your statement about the rarity of “smoking guns.” It seems the Trump administration has provided several that the House Judiciary Committee is choosing to ignore.

According to official Oval Office documents, President Trump said to Russian foreign minister Lavrov and Russian ambassador Kislyak on May 10, 2017: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. I’m not under investigation.” That was the day after the President fired Director Comey.

Like Associate Attorney General Tony West’s emails, the statement contradicts the administration’s official claims, specifically that the FBI Director was fired not because but despite his leading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

The difference of course is that West is several tiers down the administration hierarchy. The equivalent would be if you had discovered White House emails from President Obama directing the Justice Department to give settlement funds to leftwing organizations. And even if such documents existed, the severity of the misbehavior would be significantly lower. It would not, for example, constitute obstruction of justice and possible grounds for impeachment.

But technically your statement is true. Your House Judiciary Committee did not find this “smoking gun” in its “congressional investigation” because your committee is not holding an investigation into the firing of Director Comey even though oversight of the Justice Department is your primary responsibility.

Instead you’re reading emails from 2014.

At this rate of oversight, will you begin investigating the current administration in 2020?

Email #325: “impartiality”?

Once again I agree with your stated principles. You said Tuesday in a press release announcing a joint investigation by the House Judiciary and the House Oversight committees:

“The impartiality of our justice system is the bedrock of our republic and our fellow citizens must have confidence in its objectivity, independence, and evenhandedness. The law is the most equalizing force in this country. No entity or individual is exempt from oversight… Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve the integrity of our justice system by ensuring transparency and accountability of actions taken.”

But what in your opinion is the greatest threat to American confidence in the impartiality of the Justice Department? What subject requires your most immediate attention and exercise of your constitutional duty?

“Decisions made by the Department of Justice in 2016 have led to a host of outstanding questions that must be answered.”

And of all of the decisions the Department made last year, you list only four, all regarding the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Even the stated goals of your new investigation seem oddly limited:

“The Committees will review these decisions and others to better understand the reasoning behind how certain conclusions were drawn.”

Admittedly, I too would like to better understand former FBI Director Comey’s decision. I wrote to you about this in January days before President Trump took office:

“The Justice department announced yesterday it’s investigating FBI Director James Comey’s actions during the campaign. What steps will you be taking to investigate him too? As you obviously know, Comey broke against decades of tradition and against all legal and professional advice when he revealed that he was reopening the FBI case into Hillary Clinton’s emails. He did this less than two weeks before the election, and Clinton’s polls, which were averaging far above Trump’s, immediately dropped. Comey announced less than two days before the election that the investigation was closed again, but Clinton’s polls never recovered to their previous levels. Given that Trump won his three upset states by under 1% each, there’s an obvious case to be made that Director Comey not only interfered in the election but actually caused its outcome. Since the Hatch Act makes any election interference a crime and since you are the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I assume you are already investigating the Director. I am, however, confused why you haven’t spoken about this yet. Your silence creates the impression of your putting your party allegiance above your Congressional and ethical responsibilities. When will you make a statement regarding Director Comey?”

Your response has taken nine months and follows a full-year after the actual incidents. Comey’s letter was dated October 28, 2016–a year from today. Should we expect the same reaction time for your other investigations into the Justice Department? The President fired Comey on April 9, 2017. Will you begin investigating that potential obstruction of justice in April 2018?

Although I agree that these incidents remain relevant, your focus on them now and your continuing refusal to investigate other more pressing concerns undermines an appearance of integrity. You look like a Trump ally, trying to divert attention away from the administration’s current misconduct.

Not only does this undermine your stated principles, it’s an ineffective political strategy. When calls for impeachment mount over winter and spring, you will not be able to assume a posture of principled resistance. Your refusing to parallel your Republican counterparts in the Senate Judiciary Committee and join the House Oversight Committee in investigations of the Trump administration already create an appearance of extreme partisan bias. Now by focusing yet again on the Clinton emails—the top political topic of last year’s election—you further erode any appearance of impartiality. If you next ignore evidence of impeachable offenses and refuse to proceed with articles of impeachment, you will secure your position in our history books as a partisan stooge.

Is this how you want to be remembered?