Monday

Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation

With Twitter as his Excalibur, the
president takes on his doubters, powered
by long spells of cable news and a
dozen Diet Cokes. But if Mr. Trump
has yet to bend the presidency to his
will, he is at least wrestling it to a draw.




WASHINGTON — Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in night clothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.

As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton — as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.

For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.

Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back.

“He feels like there’s an effort to undermine his election and that collusion allegations are unfounded,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has spent more time with the president than most lawmakers. “He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him. The way he got here is fighting back and counterpunching.

“The problem he’s going to face,” Mr. Graham added, “is there’s a difference between running for the office and being president. You’ve got to find that sweet spot between being a fighter and being president.”

Bracing and refreshing to his alienated-from-the-system political base, Mr. Trump’s uninhibited approach seems erratic to many veterans of both parties in the capital and beyond. Some politicians and pundits lament the instability and, even without medical degrees, feel no compunction about publicly diagnosing various mental maladies.

In recent weeks, the president made a derogatory reference to Native Americans in front of Navajo guests, insinuated that a television host was involved in the death of an aide and prompted an international incident with Britain by retweeting inflammatory anti-Muslim videos — demonstrating the limits of a staff that has tried hard to steer him away from volatile territory.

His approach got him to the White House, Mr. Trump reasons, so it must be the right one. He is more unpopular than any of his modern predecessors at this point in his tenure — just 32 percent approved of his performance in the latest Pew Research Center poll — yet he dominates the landscape like no other.

After months of legislative failures, Mr. Trump is on the verge of finally prevailing in his efforts to cut taxes and reverse part of his predecessor’s health care program. While much of what he has promised remains undone, he has made significant progress in his goal of rolling back business and environmental regulations. The growing economy he inherited continues to improve, and stock markets have soared to record heights. His partial travel ban on mainly Muslim countries has finally taken effect after multiple court fights.

Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, has told associates that Mr. Trump, deeply set in his ways at age 71, will never change. Rather, he predicted, Mr. Trump would bend, and possibly break, the office to his will.

That has proved half true. Mr. Trump, so far, has arguably wrestled the presidency to a draw.

‘Time to Think’

In the jargon of the military, John F. Kelly, a retired four-star general, served as a “wagon boss” for Marines crashing into Iraq in 2003, keeping his column moving forward despite incoming fire. As White House chief of staff, Mr. Kelly has adopted much the same approach, laboring 14-hour days to impose discipline on a chaotic operation — with mixed success.

In the months before Mr. Kelly took over last summer from his embattled predecessor, Reince Priebus, the Oval Office had a rush-hour feel, with a constant stream of aides and visitors stopping by to offer advice or kibitz. During one April meeting with New York Times reporters, no fewer than 20 people wandered in and out — including Mr. Priebus, who walked in with Vice President Mike Pence. The door to the Oval Office is now mostly closed.

Mr. Kelly is trying, quietly and respectfully, to reduce the amount of free time the president has for fiery tweets by accelerating the start of his workday. Mr. Priebus also tried, with only modest success, to encourage Mr. Trump to arrive by 9 or 9:30 a.m.

The pace of meetings has increased. Beyond Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kushner, they often include Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser; Hope Hicks, the communications director; Robert Porter, the staff secretary; and Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor.

Mr. Trump, who enjoyed complete control over his business empire, has made significant concessions after trying to micromanage his first months in office. Despite chafing at the limits, the president actually craves the approval of Mr. Kelly, whom he sees as a peer, people close to Mr. Trump said.

He calls Mr. Kelly up to a dozen times a day, even four or five times during dinner or a golf outing, to ask about his schedule or seek policy advice, according to people who have spoken with the president. The new system gives him “time to think,” he said when it began. White House aides denied that Mr. Trump seeks Mr. Kelly’s blessing, but confirmed that he views him as a crucial confidant and sounding board. Mr. Kelly has also adopted some of Mr. Trump’s favorite grievances, telling the president recently that he agrees that some reporters are interested only in taking down the administration.

At times, Mr. Trump has been able to circumvent Mr. Kelly. Over Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago, the president mingled with guests the way he had before the election. Some passed him news clips that would never get around Mr. Kelly’s filters. And he dialed old friends, receiving updates about how they see the Russia investigation. He returned to Washington fired up.

Mr. Kelly has told people he will try to control only what he can. As he has learned, there is much that he cannot.

‘I Don’t Watch Much’

For most of the year, people inside and outside Washington have been convinced that there is a strategy behind Mr. Trump’s actions. But there is seldom a plan apart from pre-emption, self-defense, obsession and impulse.

Occasionally, the president solicits affirmation before hitting the “tweet” button. In June, according to a longtime adviser, he excitedly called friends to say he had the perfect tweet to neutralize the Russia investigation. He would call it a “witch hunt.” They were unimpressed.

He has bowed to advice from his lawyers by not attacking Mr. Mueller, but at times his instincts prevail.

When three former campaign advisers were indicted or pleaded guilty this fall, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the investigation, urged the president not to respond. If he did, it would only elevate the story.

Mr. Trump, however, could not help himself. He tweeted that the financial charges lodged against his former campaign manager, Paul J. Manafort, had nothing to do with the campaign and that investigators should be examining “Crooked Hillary & the Dems” instead. By the next morning, he was belittling George Papadopoulos, the campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his outreach to Russians, dismissing him as a “low level volunteer” who has “proven to be a liar.”

He was calm at first when his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty. The next morning, as he visited Manhattan for Republican fund-raisers, he was upbeat. He talked about his election and the “major loser” in the Senate who had said his tax bill would add to the deficit (presumably meaning Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee).

By Sunday morning, with news shows consumed by Mr. Flynn’s case, the president grew angry and fired off a series of tweets excoriating Mrs. Clinton and the F.B.I., tweets that several advisers told him were problematic and needed to stop, according to a person briefed on the discussion.

Once he posts controversial messages, Mr. Trump’s advisers sometimes decide not to raise them with him. One adviser said that aides to the president needed to stay positive and look for silver linings wherever they could find them, and that the West Wing team at times resolved not to let the tweets dominate their day.

The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his “Super TiVo,” a state-of-the-art system that records cable news.

Watching cable, he shares thoughts with anyone in the room, even the household staff he summons via a button for lunch or for one of the dozen Diet Cokes he consumes each day.

But he is leery of being seen as tube-glued — a perception that reinforces the criticism that he is not taking the job seriously. On his recent trip to Asia, the president was told of a list of 51 fact-checking questions for this article, including one about his prodigious television watching habits. Instead of responding through an aide, he delivered a broadside on his viewing habits to befuddled reporters from other outlets on Air Force One heading to Vietnam.

“I do not watch much television,” he insisted. “I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”

Later, he groused about being forced to watch CNN in the Philippines because nothing else was available.

‘Aren’t You Glad I Don’t Drink?’

To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.

During the morning, aides monitor “Fox & Friends” live or through a transcription service in much the way commodities traders might keep tabs on market futures to predict the direction of their day.

If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

Yet the image of him in a constant rage belies a deeper complexity for a man who runs in bellow-and-banter cycles. Several advisers said the president may curse them for a minor transgression — like bringing an unknown aide into his presence without warning — then make amiable small talk with the same person minutes later.

“He is very aware that he is only the 45th person to hold that job,” Ms. Conway said. “The job has changed him a bit, and he has changed the job. His time as president has revealed other, more affable and accessible, parts and pieces of him that may have been hidden from view during a rough and tumble primary.”

Few get to see those other parts and pieces. In private moments with the families of appointees in the Oval Office, the president engages with children in a softer tone than he takes in public, and he specifically asked that the children of the White House press corps be invited in as they visited on Halloween. Yet he does little to promote that side, some longtime friends say, because it cracks the veneer of strength that he relishes.

Only occasionally does Mr. Trump let slip his mask of unreflective invincibility. During a meeting with Republican senators, he discussed in emotional terms the opioid crisis and the dangers of addiction, recounting his brother’s struggle with alcohol.

According to a senator and an aide, the president then looked around the room and asked puckishly, “Aren’t you glad I don’t drink?”

‘Don’t Interrupt Me’

Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government.

His vision of executive leadership was shaped close to home, by experiences with Democratic clubhouse politicians as a young developer in New York. One figure stands out to Mr. Trump: an unnamed party boss — his friends assume he is referring to the legendary Brooklyn fixer Meade Esposito — whom he remembered keeping a baseball bat under his desk to enforce his power. To the adviser who recounted it, the story revealed what Mr. Trump expected being president would be like — ruling by fiat, exacting tribute and cutting back room deals.

But while he is unlikely to change who he is on a fundamental level, advisers said they saw a novice who was gradually learning that the presidency does not work that way. And he is coming to realize, they said, the need to woo, not whack, leaders of his own party to get things done.

During his early months in office, he barked commands at senators, which did not go over well. “I don’t work for you, Mr. President,” Mr. Corker once snapped back, according to a Republican with knowledge of the exchange.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, likewise bristled when Mr. Trump cut in during methodical presentations in the Oval Office. “Don’t interrupt me,” Mr. McConnell told the president during a discussion of health care.

Mr. Trump may have gotten the message. After a bout of public feuding last summer, he and Mr. McConnell reconciled and began speaking most days. And as the president increasingly recognizes how much Congress controls his fate, Marc Short, the legislative affairs director, has sought to educate him by appealing to Mr. Trump’s tendency to view issues in terms of personality, compiling one-page profiles of legislators for him, the congressional equivalent of baseball cards.

While he is no policy wonk — “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he famously said at one point — he has shown more comfort with the details of his tax-cutting legislation. And aides said he had become more attentive during daily intelligence briefings thanks to pithy presentations by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, and a deeper concern about the North Korea situation than his blithe, confrontational tweets suggest.

“At first, there was a thread of being an impostor that may have been in his mind,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, who has tried to forge a working relationship with the president.

“He’s overcome that by now,” she said. “The bigger problem, the thing people need to understand, is that he was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”

Mr. Graham, once a fierce critic and now increasingly an ally, said Mr. Trump was adjusting. “You can expect every president to change because the job requires you to change,” he said. “He’s learning the rhythm of the town.” But Mr. Graham added that Mr. Trump’s presidency was still “a work in progress.” At this point, he said, “everything’s possible, from complete disaster to a home run.”

‘He Wears You Down’

In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.

Monitoring his information consumption — and countering what Mr. Kelly calls “garbage” peddled to him by outsiders — remains a priority for the chief of staff and the team he has made his own. Even after a year of official briefings and access to the best minds of the federal government, Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything that does not come from inside his bubble.

Some advisers, like the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, consider this a fundamentally good thing. “I see a lot of similarities between the way he was running the campaign and the way he is as president,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “He really loves verbal briefings. He is not one to consume volumes of books or briefings.”

Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.

Mr. Kelly has told people he pushed out advisers like Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who he believed advanced information to rile up Mr. Trump or create internal conflict. But Mr. Trump still controls his own guest list.

Jeanine Pirro, whose Fox News show is a presidential favorite, recently asked to meet about a deal approved while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state that gave Russia control over some American uranium, which lately has become a favorite focus of conservatives.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Kelly and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, met for more than an hour on Nov. 1 as Ms. Pirro whipped up the president against Mr. Mueller and accused James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, of employing tactics typically reserved for Mafia cases, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

The president became visibly agitated as she spoke. “Roy Cohn was my lawyer!” he exclaimed, referring to the legendary McCarthy-era fixer who mentored Mr. Trump in the 1980s, suggesting that was the type of defender he needed now.

At another point, Mr. Kelly interrupted. She was not “helping things,” he said, according to the person briefed. Even Mr. Trump eventually tired of Ms. Pirro’s screed and walked out of the room, according to the person.

Mr. Trump is an avid newspaper reader who still marks up a half-dozen papers with comments in black Sharpie pen, but Mr. Bannon has told allies that Mr. Trump only “reads to reinforce.” Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”

“He wears you down,” Mr. Schwartz said.

‘Where the Hell Have You Been?’

Some of the changes resulting from Mr. Kelly’s arrival have been subtle. For the last decade, for example, Mr. Trump’s most trusted aide was his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, a bald, brawny former New York police officer who played an ambiguous role as protector, gatekeeper and younger brother to the president. An early warning system, Mr. Schiller tipped callers when the boss was in a bad mood and sometimes reached out to the president’s friends to urge them to buck him up.

In August, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Schiller for a newspaper article he had heard about. After Mr. Trump mentioned the article to Mr. Kelly, the chief of staff dispatched two aides to investigate how it had gotten to the president without being cleared. Mr. Schiller acknowledged providing the contraband newsprint. Mr. Kelly thanked him tersely for coming forward, according to two people Mr. Schiller later told.

To the surprise of aides, the president did not try to make clear Mr. Schiller’s unique place in the Trump orbit. After some additional encounters with Mr. Kelly, Mr. Schiller announced his departure, a decision fueled primarily by a dislike for Washington and a desire to once again earn private-sector pay before retiring.

Since then, Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration at Mr. Schiller’s absence, telling a visiting lawmaker that his Oval Office suite now seems “empty.” The departure of other familiar faces has been equally unsettling.

Once this fall, Mr. Trump lashed out at an aide he had not seen for weeks, asking, “Where the hell have you been?” When the aide told him that Mr. Kelly had limited the meetings he could attend, the president cooled off and said, “Oh, O.K.,” according to an aide told of the exchange.
If Mr. Kelly knows he cannot always control access, he is intent on at least knowing who is peddling what to his boss. He reserves the right to listen to calls coming to the president through the White House switchboard. To some callers, Mr. Kelly politely promises to forward messages. On calls he cannot monitor personally, Mr. Kelly or a deputy will usually double-back to debrief the caller on any promises the president may have made in unguarded moments.

‘I Can Invite Anyone’

Mr. Trump seeks release on the golf course on weekends. But on weekdays, his principal mode of blowing off steam is his nightly dinner in the White House residence, which begins at 6:30 or 7 p.m. with a guest list organized by the ever-vigilant Mr. Kelly.

“I can invite anyone for dinner, and they will come!” Mr. Trump marveled to an old friend when he took office.

Mr. Trump has always relished gossiping over plates of well-done steak, salad slathered with Roquefort dressing and bacon crumbles, tureens of gravy and massive slices of dessert with extra ice cream.

He needs support, a sounding board and, as a lifelong hotelier, guests. Mr. Trump is naturally garrulous, and loves to give White House tours. He has an odd affinity for showing off bathrooms, including one he renovated near the Oval Office, and enjoys pulling dinner companions into the Lincoln Bedroom or onto the Truman Balcony for the postcard view of the city he has disrupted.

Over the summer, he invited four Democratic lawmakers and immediately peppered them with questions as they strolled through the Diplomatic Reception Room.

“Who is going to run against me in 2020?” he asked, according to a person in attendance. “Crooked Hillary? Pocahontas?” — his caustic nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who once claimed Native American heritage in a law school directory.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the president opined, would definitely run — “even if he’s in a wheelchair,” Mr. Trump added, making a scrunched-up body of a man in a wheelchair.

Mr. Trump still takes shots at Mark Cuban, a fellow rich-guy reality star, and expresses disappointment that Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has distanced himself. But he spends much of his time now puzzling over political options and wrestling with the terrifying responsibilities of the presidency.

Even when Mr. Trump is in a lighthearted mood, hints of anxiety waft over the table like steam over a teacup. In September, he met with evangelical leaders to reassure them that he would still pursue their agenda despite a flirtation with Democrats.

“The Christians know all the things I’m doing for them, right?” he asked, according to three attendees, who reported praising his positions on issues like abortion and Planned Parenthood.
When the guests depart, the remote control comes back out. He is less likely to tweet at this hour, when the news he would react to is mostly recycled from hours earlier. But he watches Ms. Pirro and her fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and sometimes “hate-watches” CNN to get worked up, especially Don Lemon.

In between, it is time for phone calls, to people he has fired like Corey Lewandowski and Mr. Bannon, old friends like Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Richard LeFrak, and more recently Republican lawmakers, especially Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus. This is when his fixations are unfettered: Russia, Mrs. Clinton, Barack Obama, the “fake news” media, his bitter disappointment with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump’s friends have noticed a different pitch, acknowledging that many aides and even his own relatives could be hurt by Mr. Mueller’s investigation. As for himself, he has adopted a surprisingly fatalistic attitude, according to several people he speaks with regularly.
“It’s life,” he said of the investigation.

From there it is off to bed for what usually amounts to five or six hours of sleep. Then the television will be blaring again, he will reach for his iPhone and the battle will begin anew.

Thursday

Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation engulfs Deutsche

By Handelsblatt Staff

Deutsche Bank has been served. US investigators are demanding that it provide information on dealings linked to the Trumps, sources familiar with the matter told Handelsblatt. The subpoena is part of a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team to determine whether the president’s campaign was involved in Russian efforts to influence the US election.

Donald Trump and his family have long-standing ties to Germany’s largest bank. The former real-estate baron has done billions of dollars’ worth of business with Deutsche Bank over the past two decades, and First Lady Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are also clients.
According to media reports, Mr. Trump owed Deutsche Bank as much as $340 million (€286.5 million) at one point, though considerable restructuring appears to have brought down that amount. The president’s financial disclosure of June 16 reported $130 million in debt, a figure the bank has not publicly confirmed.
 

Trump Made the Most Flagrant Bigots Proud. They See Him as Their Leader. Why Wouldn’t They?

By Shaun King

I know it’s hard to keep up, but this morning President Donald Trump did something so dangerous, offensive, and problematic that it must be confronted head-on. In my circles, we are wary of playing what we call the “Oppression Olympics,” where one horrible moment of bigotry gets ranked against the next, but I am forced to say that what Trump did this morning is a low moment for a very low presidency.

As he does most mornings, Trump woke up and began his daily tweet-fest. Each tweet could be legitimately critiqued and dissected. This morning, however, there were three very disturbing retweets that we must confront like our lives depend on it — because for some of us, it does. I truly believe that Trump — who, I remind you, is the president of the United States and has over 44 million followers on Twitter alone — has just endangered millions of people.

Trump retweeted several videos from a group called Britain First, a far-right, white supremacist group. The videos Trump promoted are pieces of hateful, anti-Muslim propaganda. One of the videos, purporting to be of a young Muslim immigrant assaulting a young Dutch man, appears to be an absolute hoax. There is no indication that the perpetrator of the attack is a Muslim. As my colleague Rob Mackey wrote, Britain First has a long history of distorting videos and releasing misleading information to promote its hateful cause; the group is a purveyor of bigoted hoaxes.

The more you learn about Britain First, the worse it gets. Jayda Fransen, the group’s deputy leader, is a widely known bigot in the U.K. This is not just my opinion: She has been convicted of a hate crime for brutally harassing a young Muslim mother in front of her children. Ten days ago, she was arrested in Belfast in a separate incident and charged with “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior.”

On Wednesday, Fransen was thrilled with Trump’s retweets, posting an all-caps message about it: “DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!” she wrote. After thanking Trump, Fransen then went on a tweeting spree, in which she appears to openly accept that the videos were hateful, Islamophobic, and anti-Muslim.

The British reaction gives us an idea of how bad things are. David Lammy, a Labour member of parliament, was outraged. “Trump sharing Britain First,” he tweeted. “Let that sink in. The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours.”
  David Lammy @DavidLammy
Trump sharing Britain First. Let that sink in. The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours. @realDonaldTrump you are not welcome in my country and my city.
Again: The president of the United States is sharing outrageous hate videos from a convicted hate-monger with the world. Maybe your ability to be disturbed ran out a long time ago, but this is beyond the pale. I have spoken this morning with over a dozen of my closest Muslim friends and colleagues. Without fail, each of them was not only deeply offended by what Trump has done, but they also each felt like the president of the United States just mainstreamed hate and violence against them.

Suddenly a convicted hate leader who most of the world had never heard of feels empowered. She has been amplified and given a platform beyond her wildest dreams. She is now literally thanking God for Donald Trump. Now she is being interviewed by CBS and forced into the American mainstream.

All of this goes right back to square one with Trump. He had long since targeted Muslims and made an entire religion the focus of his ire. During his campaign, he said, “I think Islam hates us” and threatened to ban all Muslims from coming to the U.S. After entering office, Trump attempted to enact a more limited “Muslim ban,” focusing on only a handful of Muslim countries. With the courts striking down the bans over and over again, Trump has been forced to moderate his policies. But his tweets today prove it is unadulterated hate and Islamophobia that drive him.

Just like he did after Trump’s middling remarks about the violence surrounding a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, one of America’s leading white supremacists David Duke is again thanking Trump for his actions today. That kind of sums it up. Today, Trump made the most flagrant bigots among us proud. They see him as their leader. Why wouldn’t they?

These hate-mongers are feeling empowered, and so are their followers. Hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., according to FBI statistics, especially against Muslims. That’s what I mean when I say Trump is putting people in real danger. With Trump promoting the worst anti-Muslim hate, things are steadily getting more and more precarious for our Muslim brothers and sisters in the U.S. and across the world.

I wondered how much worse things could get coming from Donald Trump. Today proves that we’re not even close to rock bottom.

Wednesday

Susan Rice: Trump Is Making China Great Again



President Trump’s recently concluded trip to Asia had the potential to advance important American security and economic interests. Played correctly, his ambitious five-country, 12-day trip could have steadied his administration’s rocky start in this vital region. Instead, it left the United States more isolated and in retreat, handing leadership of the newly christened “Indo-Pacific” to China on a silver platter.

The trip began with solid performances in Japan and Korea, where Mr. Trump’s relatively measured words left key allies reassured of the United States’ commitment to their security. The president largely shelved his belligerent trade rhetoric, called for allies to buy more American military hardware and reopened the door to diplomacy with North Korea. Weather curtailed his surprise trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone, but that may have been a blessing, since hostile words might have prompted hostile action.

But in China, the wheels began to come off his diplomatic bus. The Chinese leadership played President Trump like a fiddle, catering to his insatiable ego and substituting pomp and circumstance for substance.

China always prefers to couch state visits in ceremony rather than compromise on policy. This approach seemed to suit President Trump just fine, as he welcomed a rote recitation of China’s longstanding rejection of a nuclear North Korea and failed to extract new concessions or promises. He also settled for the announcement of $250 billion in trade and investment agreements, many of which are nonbinding and, in the words of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “pretty small.” Missing were firm deals to improve market access or reduce technology-sharing requirements for American companies seeking to do business in China.

Mr. Trump showered President Xi Jinping of China with embarrassingly fawning accolades, calling him “a very special man” and stressing that “my feeling towards you is an incredibly warm one.” He blamed his predecessors rather than China for our huge trade deficits and hailed Mr. Xi’s consolidation of authoritarian power. Such scenes of an American president kowtowing in China to a Chinese president sent chills down the spines of Asia experts and United States allies who have relied on America to balance and sometimes counter an increasingly assertive China. Their collective dismay was only heightened by Mr. Trump’s failure to mention publicly any concerns about the disputed South China Sea or even to insist that the American press be allowed to ask the leaders questions.

According to Mr. Tillerson, these stunning displays of Trumpian affection for Mr. Xi were complemented by more concrete discussions behind closed doors. With the notable exception of climate change, the administration wisely seems to have committed to continue cooperation with China in several key areas. But intensive diplomacy in the run-up to these critical leader-level meetings could have yielded real results to advance mutual interests and bypass the Chinese penchant for show over substance. This time, it is unclear whether such diplomacy was undertaken, and the result is that no new policy ground appears to have been broken.

By contrast, President Barack Obama sent his national security advisers to China before summit meetings. In 2014, we agreed on military confidence-building measures, cooperation to fight Ebola, extended visa validity and a historic United States-China deal on climate change, which led to the Paris Agreement. In 2015, we secured agreement from China to curtail cybertheft of United States intellectual property for commercial gain and to cooperate on development and global health security. In 2016, China stepped up its commitment to crack down on fentanyl precursors, support United Nations peacekeeping and strengthen nuclear security.

President Trump’s last stops in Vietnam and the Philippines proved the most problematic. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting, he delivered a vitriolic, nationalistic speech on trade that made the United States look angry and rendered us more isolated. He made no progress toward the bilateral trade agreements he says he wants to replace multilateral deals.

Instead, the leaders of the 11 remaining Trans-Pacific Partnership countries announced a framework to remake their deal without the United States, leaving America outside the largest trade agreement in the world — one that the United States had previously championed to solidify its economic and strategic leadership in the region. Notably, President Xi followed Mr. Trump’s hostile speech with a paean to open markets, fair commerce and the benefits of globalization, ideas that might have been cribbed from previous American presidents.

Finally, the president’s always fragile self-discipline evaporated with his outlandish tweets over the weekend, including some about Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that undercut his sober message in Seoul. So, too, Mr. Trump’s hubristic offer late in his trip to mediate China’s disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea, his failure to mention human rights and, above all, his disturbing defense of Vladimir Putin’s lies about meddling in our election, combined with his insulting the United States intelligence community on foreign soil, overwhelmed any effort to assert credible American leadership.

President Trump’s lighthearted embrace of a self-proclaimed killer, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, was the nadir of a high-stakes trip that set back American leadership in Asia. But it was, perhaps, the perfect if unintended coda to the president’s “Make China Great Again” tour.

Friday

‘I don’t feel wealthy’: The upper middle class is worried about paying for the tax overhaul




On the income distribution charts at the center of tax overhaul plans, Courtney Mishoe knows she’s doing well. She works as a tax manager at a firm in the Atlanta suburbs. Her husband is a police officer. Together they make more than $180,000 a year. They are solidly in the upper middle class. But they have a mortgage and three kids, including one in day care and another in high school with plans to go to college. It all adds up. They depend on tax deductions to make their budget work.

“I don’t feel wealthy,” Mishoe said. “I don’t have a bunch of money stashed away anywhere.”
Mishoe is the type of person — affluent enough for an annual family vacation but not enough for a boat or second home — who potentially stands to lose under the Republican framework for changing the country’s tax code, which threatens to eliminate or deeply cut deductions for mortgage and student loan interest and state and local taxes. These popular deductions are widely viewed as sacrosanct in high-tax, high-cost states like New York, New Jersey and California, where residents have led the fight against the proposed changes.


But what has been widely overlooked is that residents of well-to-do suburbs in red and blue states across the nation — including here just north of Atlanta — could find themselves in a similar tax squeeze. This threatens to further complicate efforts to pass a tax plan that many Republican officials view as essential after a year of legislative struggles. Both the House version, which passed out of a critical committee Thursday, and the Senate version, released Thursday, target this group of upper-middle-class Americans to raise revenue to offset other tax cuts.

The tax push illustrates the political risks of attacking provisions favored by prosperous but far-from-rich suburbanites, a powerful voting bloc that often faces the financial stress of living in increasingly pricey neighborhoods. Many in the GOP already are worried about losing their grip on this important group after Tuesday’s result in the Virginia governor’s race, where Democrat Ralph Northam crushed Republican Ed Gillespie by running up votes in the dense areas outside cities.

Alpharetta is part of a booming region known as North Fulton, where no one bats an eye at $600,000 homes, Whole Foods and West Elm are eager to locate, and property taxes are relatively high to fund the top-performing public schools that attract striving white-collar professionals. And when it comes to their taxes, residents often have more in common with people living just outside New York City and Washington, D.C., than those in other parts of Georgia.

The Republicans’ plan proposes to offset $2 trillion in tax cuts in part by going after the deductions enjoyed by the upper middle class, generally those earning $100,000 to $250,000 a year, representing about the top 80 to 95 percent of earners. The Joint Committee on Taxation found, for instance, that nearly 90 percent of the state and local tax-deduction benefit went to people earning more than $100,000. The House plans would cap the deduction at $10,000. The Senate plan is said to eliminate the deduction entirely.

In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which contains most of North Fulton, nearly half of tax filers took this deduction, well above the national average and on par with expensive coastal states.
“These people will probably be hit,” said Roger Lusby, a tax accountant in Alpharetta, who said he was disappointed by the Republican’s offerings. “They just don’t realize it yet.”

Rep. Karen Handel, a Republican representing the 6th District who won a closely contested special election here earlier this year, defended the plan by pointing to another Joint Committee on Taxation study that found all income groups in the nation would see lower taxes in the short term, on average. But the report did not break down the impact at the local level, and other nonpartisan research has shown that about a third of taxpayers in this income group would pay more. Handel said it was a mistake to focus on deductions.

“It’s important to look at this in the totality,” she said.

Brandon Beach, a local state senator, said he was confident that residents would see lowered individual tax bills in the final proposal.

“This is a tricky thing,” Beach said. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”

North Fulton seems like a place that could afford to pay more in taxes, but residents say their low-six-figure incomes obscure the economic challenges of living here.

A string of prosperous suburbs aligned along an eight-lane highway known as Georgia 400 that funnels cars and light-rail trains into the heart of Atlanta, the region has been transformed in the past two decades into a sought-after community with increasingly dense subdivisions and corporate campuses filled with technology and health-care firms. The headquarters of huge firms such as UPS, First Data and Veritiv are located here.

Homes nearby sell for $500,000 to $800,000. And new construction is constant, with signs in front of unfinished Craftsman-style townhouses that wishfully boast “from the mid-$500s.”
Yet, said Tracey Craft, a local real estate agent, “you can’t get them for them for anywhere near that.”

Other residents say North Fulton is a place where earning $100,000 — nearly twice the national median household income — means a surprising degree of struggle.

“Some of them are living paycheck to paycheck,” Ted Jenkin, a financial adviser, said. “You would imagine that people are fairly well-to-do even with $200,000. But they don’t consider themselves to be rich. It’s challenging.”

Lusby, the accountant, said people earning up to $250,000 in this region “don’t consider themselves to be high-earners.”

He distinguished between income and wealth. Few of his clients in this bracket were socking away much for retirement or college costs. They might have a nicer house, maybe a few extras, “but they feel like it’s all being spent and, for the most part, that’s true,” he said.

If Congress no longer allows individuals to deduct state and local income taxes, including property taxes, from their federal tax bills, it could change the calculus of places like Alpharetta. Education, funded by property taxes, is one of the region’s main selling points.

Officials here credit the public schools — stocked with Advanced Placement and honors classes — with helping to persuade Mercedes-Benz two years ago to relocate its North American headquarters and 1,000 high-paying jobs from New Jersey to Sandy Springs, a town near Alpharetta in the same county.

Broadly speaking, the Republican attack on deductions is being cheered by many economists and analysts, who have complained for years that the tax code favors deductions not available to most Americans.

But where agreement breaks down is that while many in the upper middle class will be asked to pay more, the very rich won’t be.

“I do think the plan seems to be asking more from the top 20 percent,” said Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who recently wrote a book called “Dream Hoarders,” accusing the upper middle class of gaming the system to their advantage.

But Reeves questioned a tax plan that places a greater burden on the upper middle class and delivers most of the benefits to the truly rich, the top 1 percent.

“That’s absolutely not the right way to do it,” Reeves said.

The tax plan, if passed, could further complicate the region’s reputation as a reliably Republican stronghold. The district has a long streak of sending a Republican to Congress, including Newt Gingrich and later Tom Price. President Trump edged out a win in the district last fall, in a state that he won by five points.

After Price was tapped to be Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services — a position he later resigned — a runoff election became the most expensive House race in history, when Handel narrowly beat out Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.

In Alpharetta, many people said they could not determine how they would make out under a confusing plan littered with caps and phase-ins.

As he ate lunch at Alpha Soda, a popular local restaurant, Chris Krogh said he hadn’t followed the debate closely but was troubled by what he heard. Krogh runs a custom cabinetry business and depends on homeowners as customers.

“I always thought Republicans were supposed to be good on the tax breaks,” he said.

Thursday

Profits to Fund Breitbart & Attacks on Clinton




Democracy Now Transcript:
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. This is Democracy Now!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we continue to look at money in politics as we turn now to new revelations from the Paradise Papers, a trove of millions of leaked documents on offshore finance that are being reviewed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners.

On Tuesday, The Guardian reported it had found seven Republican super-donors in the papers who store some of their fortunes offshore, beyond the reach of public scrutiny and tax authorities. Together, the billionaires pumped more than $350 million into the 2016 election. Some are well-known backers of conservative causes, like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch. Others have sought to keep their activities out of public view, like Warren Stephens, the hidden co-owner of a payday lending company now under investigation for deceiving customers.

The Guardian also published a report on a major Democratic donor, James Simons, who spent $11 million to back Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Simons is the founder of Renaissance Technologies, the world’s most profitable hedge fund. Leaked records show he kept much of his $8 billion fortune in an offshore private wealth fund in Bermuda in order to avoid, quote, “particularly severe” U.S. tax bills that would be triggered if they tried to bring the funds onshore.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, another report published Tuesday shows how billionaire Robert Mercer, who replaced Simons as head of Renaissance Technologies, and Mercer’s family built a $60 million war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid U.S. taxes. The Guardian traces the money directly to future White House chief strategist Steve Bannon of the far-right news outlet Breitbart Media.

This is New Yorker reporter Jane Meyer describing the instrumental role Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah played in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
JANE MAYER: Bob Mercer wants to shrink the government down to the size of a pinhead. He has contempt for social services and for the people who need social services. And so, he has been a power behind the scenes in Trump’s campaign. He kind of rescued Trump’s campaign in the end, he and his daughter. ....
Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of this hedge-fund tycoon, Bob Mercer, sort of cornered Trump and said, “You know, we’d like to give money to your campaign. We’ll back you, but you’ve got to try to, you know, stabilize it.” And basically, she said, “And I’ve got just the people for you to do the job.” And they were political operatives who the Mercer family had been funding for a couple of years, the main one being Steve Bannon, who is now playing the role to Trump—he’s the political strategist for Trump—that’s the role he played for the Mercer family prior to doing it for Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: So that was The New Yorker magazine’s Jane Mayer describing the significance of the Mercers.

For more, we’re joined by Jon Swaine, senior reporter for The Guardian, where he’s part of the team publishing stories on the Paradise Papers. On Monday alone, he co-authored three reports: “Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon’s attacks on Hillary Clinton,” “The seven Republican super-donors who keep money in tax havens” and “Democratic donor built up vast $8bn private wealth fund in Bermuda.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JON SWAINE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we just talked about Mercer, so let’s continue with Mercer, Robert Mercer, the head of Renaissance Technologies, who has just basically been forced to step down from that role, though, of course, talk about his wealth and his role in the election of Donald Trump.

JON SWAINE: Robert Mercer has been a huge patron of Donald Trump. Before that, he was a huge patron of Ted Cruz. And one of the ways he’s sought to back Donald Trump and to back Republican causes is through Steve Bannon. And so, Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah have a family foundation based in New York. That makes investments through his successful hedge fund that you talked about. It should, ordinarily, be paying tax on the profits it makes from that hedge fund. But instead, it routes those investments through Bermuda and, in doing so, pays no tax, takes that money, gives it to Steve Bannon through various conservative nonprofits. Steve Bannon produces books about Hillary Clinton—Clinton Cash, this book that did her so much damage in the campaign. He makes films with groups like Citizens United, Young America’s Foundation. And what these documents show, what this leak shows, is that much of this money going into these ventures avoids U.S. tax.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and when you say it routes it through Bermuda, if it’s a New York-based foundation, what does it—just keep the money in Bermuda or send it there? What’s the mechanics in how it operates?

JON SWAINE: It’s a great question. Basically, this is all just on paper. Everything, really, that Renaissance Technologies does is a U.S. venture. They are based in New York, on Long Island and in Manhattan. But on paper, they have these feeder funds, is what they call them, based in Bermuda. What that means is they pay an offshore boutique law firm to use their address, to use their premises, as a registration address for their feeder funds in Bermuda. And that allows them to say, “Look, we have these businesses in Bermuda. And what we’re doing is routing this money, on paper, on computers, through Bermuda, and therefore it avoids tax.” None of it’s real. None of this is offices with staff members and business operations actually taking place in Bermuda. It’s all just for technical reasons, which helps them avoid tax.

AMY GOODMAN: So you mention Clinton Cash, the book written by Peter Schweizer, president of Bannon’s Mercer-backed Government Accountability Institute. Then it was a documentary co-written by Steve Bannon, co-produced by Rebekah Mercer, Robert Mercer’s influential daughter, who sometimes is called “the first lady of the 'alt-right.'” This is a clip from the trailer for Clinton Cash.
HILLARY CLINTON: I want to thank all of you for your work to root out corruption, that weakens economic development, feeds black markets and organized crime, and undermines the promise of democracy.
PETER SCHWEIZER: I believe in the oldest adage in American politics, which is: follow the money.
REPORTER: A new report today claims that the Clinton Foundation gives about 10 percent of its money that it raises to actual charities.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how seminal this book, then a film, and the Breitbart media empire, supported by the Mercers—how seminal it was in Trump’s victory and in Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

JON SWAINE: I think it was really the first blow that Hillary Clinton took in her campaign. She had just announced that she was running for president. This was May 2015. And this book arrived, Clinton Cash. It got a lot of mainstream media attention. Bannon and Schweizer pushed it pretty hard into the mainstream. Breitbart supported it. Other outlets supported it. And it really painted the way that the Clinton Foundation was treated for the entire election campaign.

And, you know, I think, justifiably, a lot of Clinton supporters were pretty upset and pretty wounded by the fact that the Clintons—for all their, you know, various problems that liberals have with them, their foundation did a lot of good work overseas. It was a philanthropic foundation at its heart. This book made some very questionable charges about this sale of a uranium company to Russia. You know, that really tarnished her from the very beginning of the campaign.

And it resonates today. You know, only last month, the—two committees in the House announced an investigation into this uranium sale, which comes all the way back from Clinton Cash. The FBI looked into it during the campaign, and the reports were that the FBI were prompted by Clinton Cash, the book, you know, that the agents read the book and decided to look into this. And so it really did her some serious damage, I think. And that all traces back to Mercer and this offshore money.

Monday

Offshore Trove Exposes Trump-Russia links and Piggy Banks of the Wealthiest 1 Percent


By ICIJ 

A trove of 13.4 million records exposes ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary, the secret dealings of the chief fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the offshore interests of the queen of England and more than 120 politicians around the world.

The leaked documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, show how deeply the offshore financial system is entangled with the overlapping worlds of political players, private wealth and corporate giants, including Apple, Nike, Uber and other global companies that avoid taxes through increasingly imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers.

One offshore web leads to Trump’s commerce secretary, private equity tycoon Wilbur Ross, who has a stake in a shipping company that has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In all, the offshore ties of more than a dozen Trump advisers, Cabinet members and major donors appear in the leaked data.

The new files come from two offshore services firms as well as from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in jurisdictions that serve as waystations in the global shadow economy. The leaks were obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries.
There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose
Brooke Harrington
The promise of tax havens is secrecy – offshore locales create and oversee companies that often are difficult, or impossible, to trace back to their owners. While having an offshore entity is often legal, the built-in secrecy attracts money launderers, drug traffickers, kleptocrats and others who want to operate in the shadows. Offshore companies, often “shells” with no employees or office space, are also used in complex tax-avoidance structures that drain billions from national treasuries.

The offshore industry makes “the poor poorer” and is “deepening wealth inequality,” said Brooke Harrington, a certified wealth manager and Copenhagen Business School professor who is the author of ‘Capital without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent.’

“There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose,” Harrington said. These people “live the dream” of enjoying “the benefits of society without being subject to any of its constraints.”

The records expand on the revelations from the leak of offshore documents that spawned the 2016 Panama Papers investigation by ICIJ and its media partners. The new files shine a light on a different cast of underexplored island havens, including some with cleaner reputations and higher price tags, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The most detailed revelations emerge in decades of corporate records from the white-shoe offshore law firm Appleby and corporate services provider Estera, two businesses that operated together under the Appleby name until Estera became independent in 2016.

At least 31,000 of the individual and corporate clients included in Appleby’s records are U.S. citizens or have U.S. addresses, more than from any other country. Appleby also counted clients from the United Kingdom, China and Canada among its biggest sources of business.

Nearly 7 million records from Appleby and affiliates cover the period from 1950 to 2016 and include emails, billion-dollar loan agreements and bank statements involving at least 25,000 entities connected to people in 180 countries. Appleby is a member of the “Offshore Magic Circle,” an informal clique of the planet’s leading offshore law practices. The firm was founded Bermuda and has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and other offshore centers.

Appleby has a well-guarded 100-year reputation and has avoided public scrapes through a mixture of discretion and expensive client monitoring.

In contrast to Appleby’s public image, the files reveal a company that has provided services to risky clients from Iran, Russia and Libya, failed government audits that identified gaps in anti-money-laundering procedures and been fined in secret by the Bermuda financial regulator. Appleby did not reply to ICIJ’s detailed questions but released an online statement saying it had investigated ICIJ’s questions and is “satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.”
The firm said it is “subject to frequent regulatory checks, and we are committed to achieving the high standards set by our regulators.”

The leaked cache of documents includes more than half a million files from Asiaciti Trust, a family-run offshore specialist that is headquartered in Singapore and has satellite offices from Samoa in the South Pacific to Nevis in the Caribbean.

The leaked files also include documents from government business registries in some of the world’s most secretive corporate havens in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Europe, such as Antigua and Barbuda, the Cook Islands and Malta. One-fifth of the world’s busiest secrecy jurisdictions are represented in these databases.
Yes, the Duchy was aware that the Jubilee Absolute Return Fund was run offshore
Chris Addock
Taken as a whole, the leaks reveal offshore traces of spy planes purchased by the United Arab Emirates, the Barbados explosives company of a Canadian engineer who tried to build a “super gun” for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the Bermuda company of the late Marcial Maciel Degollado, the influential Mexican priest who founded the Catholic religious order the Legionaries of Christ and whose legacy was marred by allegations of child sexual abuse.

Queen Elizabeth II has invested millions of dollars in medical and consumer loan companies, Appleby’s files show. While the Queen’s private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, provides some details of its investments in U.K. property, such as commercial buildings scattered across southern England, it has never disclosed details of its offshore investments.

“Yes, the Duchy was aware that the Jubilee Absolute Return Fund was run offshore,” said Chris Addock, chief finance officer of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The records show that as of 2007, the queen’s private estate invested in a Cayman Islands fund that in turn invested in a private equity company that controlled BrightHouse, a U.K. rent-to-own firm criticized by consumer watchdogs and members of Parliament for selling household goods to cash-strapped Britons on payment plans with interest rates as high as 99.9 percent.

Other royals and politicians with newly disclosed offshore ties include Queen Noor of Jordan, who was listed as the beneficiary of two trusts on the island of Jersey, including one that held her sprawling British estate; Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s foreign minister and a former U.N. General Assembly president, who set up an offshore trust in the Seychelles to manage his personal wealth; Brazil’s finance minister, Henrique de Campos Meirelles, who created a foundation in Bermuda “for charitable purposes”; and Antanas Guoga, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament and professional poker player, who held a stake in an Isle of Man company whose other shareholders included a gambling mogul who settled a fraud lawsuit in the United States.

Wesley Clark, a one-time Democratic presidential hopeful and a retired four-star U.S. Army general who served as NATO’s supreme commander in Europe , was a director of an online gambling company with offshore subsidiaries, the files show.

A spokesman for Queen Elizabeth II told ICIJ partner The Guardian that the Duchy has an ongoing investment in the Cayman Island fund and was not aware of the investment in BrightHouse. The Queen voluntarily pays tax on income from the Duchy and its investments, the spokesman said.

Queen Noor told ICIJ that “all the bequests made to her and to her children by [the late King Hussein] have always been administered according to the highest ethical, legal and regulatory standards.”

Brazil’s Meirelles said the foundation he created does not benefit him personally and will support education charities after his death.

Guoga said he declared his investment in the Isle of Man company to authorities and sold the last of his shares in 2014.

“I thought you could avoid, not evade, taxes but I found it was not practical,” Kutesa told ICIJ’s media partner The Daily Monitor. He said he did nothing with the company. “ I told Appleby to close it many years ago.”

Clark did not reply to requests for comment.

In addition to disclosures about politicians and corporations, the files reveal details about the financial lives of the rich and famous and the unknown. They include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s yacht and submarines, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Cayman Island investment vehicle, and music star Madonna’s shares in a medical supplies company. Pop singer and social justice activist Bono – listed under his full name, Paul Hewson – owned shares in a company registered in Malta that invested in shopping center in Lithuania, company records show. Other clients listed their occupations as dog groomer, plumber and wakeboard instructor.

Madonna and Allen did not reply to requests for comment. Omidyar, whose Omidyar Network donates to ICIJ, discloses his investment to tax authorities, a spokeswoman said. Bono was a “passive, minority investor” in the Malta company that closed down in 2015, a spokeswoman said.

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump

Wealthy people across the political spectrum use the offshore system.
The files reveal that Stephen Bronfman, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s adviser and close friend, teamed up with Liberal Party stalwart Leo Kolber and Kolber’s son to quietly move millions of dollars to a Cayman trust. The offshore maneuvers may have avoided taxes in Canada, the United States and Israel, according to experts who reviewed some of the 3,000-plus files detailing the trust’s activities.

As the offshore riches grew, lawyers for Bronfman, the Kolbers and other wealthy interests lobbied Canada’s Parliament to fight legislative proposals to tax income from offshore trusts.
Bronfman remains a key fundraiser for Trudeau, who has championed openness in government and promised a crackdown on offshore tax dodging. In September, Trudeau told the U.N. General Assembly: “Right now, we have a system that encourages wealthy Canadians to use private corporations to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class Canadians. That’s not fair and we’re going to fix it.”

Kolber’s lawyers said in a letter to ICIJ’s partner CBC that “none of the transactions or entities at issue were effected or established to evade or even avoid taxation.” They added that the trusts “were always in full conformity with all applicable laws and requirements,” and said that no further comment would be provided by Stephen Bronfman. Trudeau’s office declined to comment.

In the United States, the files reveal personal or corporate offshore ties of key Trump associates who are charged with helping to put “America First.”

The Appleby files show how Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, has used a chain of Cayman Islands entities to maintain a financial stake in Navigator Holdings, a shipping company whose top clients include the Kremlin-linked energy firm Sibur. Among Sibur’s key owners are Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law, and Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire the U.S. government sanctioned in 2014 because of his links to Putin. Sibur is a major customer of Navigator, paying the company more than $23 million in 2016.

When he joined Trump’s Cabinet, Ross divested his interests in 80 companies. But he kept stakes in nine companies, including the four that connect him to Navigator and its Russian clients.

These revelations come against a backdrop of growing concerns about hidden Russian involvement in U.S. political affairs.

Sibur is “a company with crony connections,” said Daniel Fried, a Russia expert who has served in senior State Department posts in Republican and Democratic administrations. “Why would any officer of the U.S. government have any relationship with a Putin crony?”
A spokesman for Ross said that the Commerce Secretary never met Putin’s son-in-law or Sibur’s other owners and that he was not on the board of Navigator when it initiated its relationship with Sibur.

Ross recuses himself from matters that relate to international shipping, his spokesman said, and “has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions” against Russian entities.
The leaked files also led to other discoveries about U.S.-Russian business ties.

A document in the new cache of records helped steer ICIJ and its media partners to public documents and Panama Papers files that illuminate links between a pair of Kremlin-owned financial firms and major investments in Twitter and Facebook.

In 2011, the investment fund run by tech mogul Yuri Milner received $191 million from one of the Russian government firms, VTB Bank, and quietly invested that money in Twitter. Documents also show that a financial subsidiary of the Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom funded a shell company that invested in a Milner-affiliated company that held roughly $1 billion in Facebook shares shortly before the social network’s 2012 initial public offering.

More recently, Milner invested $850,000 in Cadre, a real estate firm co-founded by Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

Milner is a Russian citizen who lives in Silicon Valley. His ties to Twitter, Facebook and Kushner’s firm have been previously disclosed. But his links to the Kremlin financial institutions weren’t known.

VTB confirmed that it had used Milner’s fund to make an investment in Twitter. Facebook and Twitter said they had properly reviewed Milner’s investments.

In an interview, Milner said he was unaware of any possible involvement by the Gazprom subsidiary in any of his deals and that none of his many investments have been related to politics. He said he used his own money in the Kushner investment.

On the other side of the U.S. political divide, Ross’ predecessor as secretary of commerce, Penny Pritzker, pledged to sell investments to avoid conflicts of interest after she assumed her post in Democratic President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. The files show that soon after she received Senate confirmation in June 2013, Pritzker transferred her interests in two Bermuda companies to a firm that used the same mailing address as her private investment firm in Chicago. The company was “owned by trusts that are for the benefit of Penny Pritzker’s children,” according to Appleby’s files. These transfers may have fallen short of federal ethics standards for divestment, according to ethics expert Lawrence Noble.

Republican and Democratic donors alike appear in offshore records, including Randal Quarles, a GOP-leaning donor and the new Wall Street watchdog at the Federal Reserve. Quarles was an officer of two Cayman Island companies, including one that was involved in a loan deal with a Bermudan bank, N.T. Butterfield & Son. Until recently, Quarles held an indirect interest in the bank, which is under investigation by U.S. authorities for possible tax evasion by its American account holders. Private equity funds controlled by Democratic mega-donor George Soros, a hedge fund billionaire, use Appleby to help manage a web of offshore entities, including an investment in one company engaged in reinsurance, or insurance for insurers. His charitable organization, the Open Society Foundations, is a donor to ICIJ.

A spokesperson at the Federal Reserve said Quarles divested his indirect interest in the Bermudan bank after he was confirmed for the government post. Soros declined to comment. Pritzker did not respond to requests for comment.

Boardroom secrets

When Appleby is not serving the interests of some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, it provides nuts-and-bolts legal help to corporations that seek to reduce their taxes in the countries where they do business. Appleby is not a tax adviser, but the firm plays a role in tax programs used by companies across the world.

In addition to top-flight international banks such as Barclays, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas, other elite Appleby clients have included the founder of one of the Middle East’s largest construction conglomerates, the Saad Group, and the Japanese company operating the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

The files reveal that America’s most profitable company, Apple Inc., shopped around Europe and the Caribbean for a new island tax shelter after a U.S. Senate inquiry found that the tech giant had avoided tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits into Irish subsidiaries.
In one email exchange, Apple’s lawyers asked Appleby to confirm that a possible move to one of six offshore tax havens would allow an Irish subsidiary to “conduct management activities . . . without being subject to taxation in these jurisdictions.” Apple declined to comment on details of the corporate reorganization but told ICIJ that it explained the new arrangements to government authorities and that the changes did not reduce its tax payments.

The files also reveal how big corporations cut their taxes by creating offshore shell companies to hold intangible assets such as the design of
One of Appleby’s top corporate clients was Glencore PLC, the world’s largest commodity trader. The files contain decades of deals, emails and multimillion-dollar loans to bankroll ventures in Russia, Latin America, Africa and Australia.

Glencore was such an important client that it once had its own room within Appleby’s offices in Bermuda.

Company board meeting minutes document how Glencore representatives leaned on Daniel Gertler, an Israeli businessman with high-level friends in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to help seal a deal for a valuable copper mine. Glencore lent millions to a company, widely believed to belong to Gertler, described in a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry as a conduit for bribes. Gertler and Glencore were not named in the case.

Glencore said its background checks on Gertler were “extensive and thorough.” The Justice Department investigation “does not constitute evidence of anything against Mr. Gertler,” his lawyers said, adding that he “rejects absolutely any allegations of wrongdoing or criminality by him.” No loans were used improperly or for inappropriate purposes, Gertler’s lawyers said.

Offshore operatives

The offshore industry is a globe-circling labyrinth of accountants, bankers, money managers, lawyers and middlemen who get paid to serve the interests of the rich and well-connected.

Appleby, for example, is one link in a chain of offshore actors who helped sports stars, Russian oligarchs and government officials to purchase jets, yachts and other luxury items. The offshore experts helped Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, two Russian billionaires and childhood friends of President Putin, buy jets worth more than $20 million in 2013. U.S authorities blacklisted the Rotenbergs in 2014 for their support of “Putin’s pet projects” and for having banked “high price contracts” through the Russian government. Appleby cut its ties with the brothers but, in one case, received approval from the Isle of Man government nearly two years after sanctions were imposed to disburse fees to keep one of the brothers’ companies on the business register. The Rotenbergs did not reply to Süddeutsche Zeitung’s requests for comment.

Clients prize Appleby for its expertise, efficiency and global network of professionals. Its peers repeatedly crown it Offshore Law Firm of the Year.

But decades of private documents also show that even one of the offshore industry’s brightest stars has hidden shortcomings: accepting questionable clients and failing to monitor multimillion-dollar money flows.

Bermuda financial regulators fined the firm’s trust unit for breaching anti-money-laundering rules, according to a confidential 2015 deal struck by Appleby and the regulator. This year, Appleby reached a $12.7 million settlement in a lawsuit in Canada in which nurses, firefighters and police officers accused the firm of unquestioningly circulating money on behalf of a client who designed an alleged alleged tax-avoidance scheme. Appleby and the alleged mastermind did not admit wrongdoing.

Family-owned Asiaciti advertises itself as helping clients to accumulate and “preserve wealth from the ravages of litigation,” political upheavals and family breakups. It has attracted Chinese millionaires, family members of a Kazakh official convicted of corruption and a broad swath of Americans, including doctors, poker players and a Colorado alfalfa farmer.
If you say that you’ve cleaned it up, at the end of the day, can you really say that you’ve picked up every piece of seaweed?
Adrian Alhassan
The leaked files from Asiaciti reveal how the firm set up trusts in the Cook Islands for Kevin Trudeau, a U.S. infomercial frontman who sold millions of copies of self-help books such as “The Weight-Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” In 2014, a Chicago judge sentenced Trudeau to 10 years in federal prison for criminal contempt, calling him a shameless fraudster who was “deceitful to the core” and once even used his mother’s Social Security number in one of his scams.

Appleby said in its online statement that it is committed to meeting regulators’ standards. Appleby provides advice to clients “on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business,” the firm said, and it does not tolerate illegal behavior.

“It is true that we are not infallible,” Appleby said. “Where we find that mistakes have happened we act quickly to put things right.”

Asiaciti did not respond to requests for comment.

Adrian Alhassan, a former compliance manager at Appleby’s Bermuda office told ICIJ that if someone is “hellbent” on breaking the law, there’s only so much an offshore services provider can do. “It’s not the FBI,” he said. If the law firm spent years doing background research on clients, it wouldn’t “get any work done.”

“It’s like cleaning a beach,” Alhassan said in a telephone interview. “If you say that you’ve cleaned it up, at the end of the day, can you really say that you’ve picked up every piece of seaweed?”

Deepening inequality

Tax havens’ secrecy laws entice those who wish to place their wealth and dealings beyond the reach of regulators, investigators and the tax collectors.

The documents from corporate registries in 19 such jurisdictions reveal company names and details, directors and real owners of companies created in many of the world’s busiest offshore hideouts.

The documents come from high- and low-profile bastions of financial secrecy such as Marshall Islands, Lebanon and St. Kitts and Nevis, a low-lying Caribbean country recently hit by hurricanes. Some jurisdictions’ records are publicly available but impossible to search by an individual’s name. Others, such as the Cayman Islands’ registry, charge more than $30 for a one-page record that provides only basic information. Six registries do not make information available online.

The leaked files contain more than a thousand records from Antigua and Barbuda, a Caribbean country that provides no online corporate information and more than 600,000 documents from the online registry of Barbados, which does not list shareholders or directors.

Over the past decade or more, the European Union and other international organizations have pressured offshore havens to reform their laws and require that offshore go-betweens aggressively screen clients. Progress has been slow, experts say, both because of the challenges of changing practices across a global web of jurisdictions and because powerful people and big companies benefit from the offshore system.

They do so at the expense of the many – shifting the burden of taxation to middle-income taxpayers and giving multinational corporations an advantage over smaller competitors. Where it hurts most is in nations struggling to provide the basics for their populations.
In West Africa, Burkina Faso officials who monitor the tax payments of the largest companies doing business there work from cramped offices with broken air-conditioning units. Burkina Faso is among the poorest countries in the world. On average, a citizen there earns less annually than the owner of an offshore company in Bermuda pays in registration fees. The country’s tax office sought $29 million in unpaid taxes and penalties from Glencore, the world’s 16th-largest company and a major user of Appleby’s services. Glencore protested and the penalty was reduced to $1.5 million.

Helping the rich get richer through offshore maneuvers is not a “benign benefit,” said Harrington, the Copenhagen Business School professor. “When the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, because individual wealthy people are not paying their fair share of taxes.”

“It won’t be lost on wealth managers and those in the offshore industry,” she said, “that we are reaching sort of French Revolution levels of inequality and injustice.”