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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Mar-a-Lago search appears focused on whether Trump, aides withheld items

Mar-a-Lago search appears focused on whether Trump, aides withheld items

“A lawyer for Donald Trump said agents seized about a dozen boxes on Monday, months after 15 boxes of items were returned

Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec. 21, 2016, weeks after he was elected president. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In the months before the FBI’s dramatic move to execute a search warrant at former president Donald Trump’s Florida home — and open his safe to look for items — federal authorities grew increasingly concerned that Trump or his lawyers and aides had not, in fact, returned all the documents and other material that were government property, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Officials became suspicious that when Trump gave back items to the National Archives about seven months ago, either the former president or people close to him held on to key records — despite a Justice Department investigation into the handling of 15 boxes of material sent to the former president’s private club and residence in the waning days of his administration.

Over months of discussions on the subject, some officials also came to suspect Trump’s representatives were not truthful at times, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for Trump said the agents who brought the court-approved warrant to Mar-a-Lago a day earlier took about 12 more boxes after conducting their search.

People familiar with the investigation said that Justice Department and FBI officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago this spring, a meeting first reported by CNN. The officials spoke to Trump’s representatives, inspected the storage space where documents were held, and expressed concern that the former president or people close to him still had items that should be in government custody, these people said.

By that point, officials at the National Archives had been aggressively contacting people in Trump’s orbit to demand the return of documents they believed were covered by the Presidential Records Act, said two people familiar with those inquiries. Like the others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation.

Christina Bobb, a lawyer for Trump, said his lawyers engaged in discussions with the Justice Department this spring over materials held at Mar-a-Lago. At that time, the former president’s legal team searched through two to three dozen boxes of material contained in a storage area, hunting for documents that could be considered presidential records, and turned over several items that might meet the definition, she said.

In June, Bobb said, she and Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran met with Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department, along with several investigators. Trump stopped by the meeting as it began to greet the investigators but was not interviewed. The lawyers showed the federal officials the boxes, and Bratt and the others spent some time looking through the material.

Bobb said the Justice Department officials commented that they did not believe the storage unit was properly secured, so Trump officials added a lock to the facility. When FBI agents searched the property Monday, Bobb added, they broke through the lock that had been added to the door.

The FBI removed about a dozen boxes that had been stored in the basement storage area, she said. Bobb did not share the search warrant left by agents but said that it indicated agents were investigating possible violations of laws dealing with the handling of classified material and the Presidential Records Act.

Trump announced Monday that the FBI had searched Mar-a-Lago and his safe, decrying the move as the latest unfair action against him by the Justice Department and FBI. Spokespeople at both agencies declined to comment.

Asked for comment Tuesday about whether the former president or his advisers had withheld documents or been untruthful, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich called the FBI’s action “not only unprecedented, but completely unnecessary.”

“President Trump and his representatives have gone to painstaking lengths in communicating and cooperating with the appropriate agencies,” Budowich said in an emailed statement. “In the Democrats’ desperate attempt to retain power, they have unified and grown the entire conservative movement.”

One adviser who spoke to Trump after the search said the former president sounded buoyed by the development, bragging about how many Republicans were supporting him publicly, and said Trump thought the search would help him politically in the end.

“It furthers his inclination to run and galvanizes the Republican base on his behalf,” said Jason Miller, a longtime adviser and former spokesman.

Some of the Trump’s advisers have urged him to move up his expected announcement that he will run for president in 2024 and make it soon at Mar-a-Lago, with the FBI search as a backdrop. But Trump has made no commitment to doing so, one person with direct knowledge of the conversations said.

Two people familiar with the initial recovery of the materials at Mar-a-Lago said that Archives officials believed that more records were missing and were skeptical that Trump had handed everything over. As the investigation gained steam, some Trump advisers have sought to stay away from the issue, fearing it would become a messy legal and political situation, according to people familiar with the discussions.

After Monday’s search, lawyers close to Trump sought advice or recommendations of criminal defense lawyers who could represent Trump, said a person familiar with the lawyers. According to this person, the lawyers said the warrant was related to allegations that classified information was retained by Trump.

Trump already has a number of lawyers working for him, but it is not uncommon for individuals facing investigative activity to seek local attorneys to navigate a particular court district.

Dozens of die-hard Trump supporters came to West Palm Beach on Tuesday to express their support. Adriane Shochet, 64, of Lake Worth, Fla., bought a $14 broomstick, which she attached to an American flag and waved as she stood on the causeway that overlooks part of Mar-a-Lago.

“I just needed to come out and show the whole free world that this is frightening, and if they can do this, what’s next?” Shochet said. “This is the polar opposite of whatever effect politically they thought they were going to get because all it’s doing is empowering the right politically.”

Passing motorists honked in support. One man stood on the bridge, which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway, holding the American flag upside down — widely recognized as a symbol of his belief that the country is in distress.

Pat Stewart, 85, found the “Trump 2020” flag that used to fly at her house in Jupiter, Fla., which she had expected to keep tucked away until the next presidential election. For the next several hours, she stood in the sun alongside a friend who was visiting from Michigan, who is also 85, waving at passing motorists.

“I was very angry, very angry, and very upset, that our government would do this to an ex-president,” Stewart said. Even though aides said Trump was in New York and at his golf club and residence in Bedminster, N.J., this week, she held out hope that he was at Mar-a-Lago.

“We want him to come out and announce he’s running for president,” Stewart said.

One person familiar with the investigation said agents were conducting a court-authorized search as part of a long-running examination into why documents — some of them top-secret — were taken to the former president’s private club and residence instead of shipped to the National Archives and Records Administration when Trump left office. The Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.

In January, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other items from Mar-a-Lago. David S. Ferriero, then the archivist of the United States, said in a statement in February that Trump representatives were “continuing to search” for additional records.

Trump resisted handing over some of the boxes for months, some people close to the president said, and believed that many of the items were his personally and did not belong to the government. He eventually agreed to hand over some of the documents, “giving them what he believed they were entitled to,” in the words of one adviser.

Tim Craig in West Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.“

Landmark US climate bill will do more harm than good, groups say

Landmark US climate bill will do more harm than good, groups say

Bill makes concessions to the fossil fuel industry as frontline community groups call on Biden to declare climate emergency

If signed into law, it would be the first major climate legislation to be passed in the US, which is historically responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.
If signed into law, it would be the first major climate legislation to be passed in the US, which is historically responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

“The landmark climate legislation passed by the Senate after months of wrangling and weakening by fossil-fuel friendly Democrats will lead to more harm than good, according to frontline community groups who are calling on Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.

If signed into law, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) would allocate $369bn to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources – a historic amount that scientists estimate will lead to net reductions of 40% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

It would be the first significant climate legislation to be passed in the US, which is historically responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.

But the bill makes a slew of concessions to the fossil fuel industry, including mandating drilling and pipeline deals that will harm communities from Alaska to Appalachia and the Gulf coast and tie the US to planet-heating energy projects for decades to come.

“Once again, the only climate proposal on the table requires that the communities of the Gulf south bear the disproportionate cost of national interests bending a knee to dirty energy – furthering the debt this country owes to the South,” said Colette Pichon Battle from Taproot Earth Vision (formerly Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy).

“Solving the climate crisis requires eliminating fossil fuels, and the Inflation Reduction Act simply does not do this,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel).

Overall, many environmental and community groups agree that while the deal will bring some long-term global benefits by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not enough and consigns communities already threatened by sea level rise, floods and extreme heat to further misery.

The bill is a watered-down version of Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better bill which was blocked by every single Republican and also conservative Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have both received significant campaign support from fossil fuel industries. West Virginia’s Manchin, in particular, is known for his close personal ties to the coal sector.

“This was a backdoor take-it-or-leave-it deal between a coal baron and Democratic leaders in which any opposition from lawmakers or frontline communities was quashed. It was an inherently unjust process, a deal which sacrifices so many communities and doesn’t get us anywhere near where we need to go, yet is being presented as a saviour legislation,” said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The IRA, which includes new tax provisions to pay for the historic $739bn climate and healthcare spending package, has been touted as a huge victory for the Biden administration as the Democrats gear up for a tough ride in the midterm elections, when they face losing control of both houses of Congress.

The spending package will expedite expansion of the clean energy industry, and while it includes historic funds to tackle air pollution and help consumers go green through electric vehicle and household appliance subsidies, the vast majority of the funds will benefit corporations.

A cost-benefit analysis by the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), which represents a wide range of urban and rural groups nationwide, concludes that the strengths of the IRA are outweighed by the bill’s weaknesses and threats posed by the expansion of fossil fuels and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen generation – which the bill will incentivise with billions of dollars of tax credits that will mostly benefit oil and gas.

“Climate investments should not be handcuffed to corporate subsidies for fossil fuel development and unproven technologies that will poison our communities for decades,” said Juan Jhong-Chung from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, a member of the CJA.

The IRA is a huge step towards creating a green capitalist industry that wrongly assumes the economic benefits will trickle down to low-income communities and households, added Su.

Many advocacy groups agree that the IRA should be the first step – not the final climate policy – for Biden, who promised to be the country’s first climate president.

People vs Fossil Fuels, a national coalition of more than 1,200 organisations from all 50 states, recently delivered a petition with more than 500,000 signatures to the White House calling on Biden to declare a climate emergency, which would unlock new funds for urgently needed climate adaptation in hard-hit communities, and use executive actions to stop the expansion of fossil fuels.

Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign IƱupiat for a Living Arctic, said: “This new bill is genocide, there is no other way to put it. This is a life or death situation and the longer we act as though the world isn’t on fire around us, the worse our burns will be. Biden has the power to prevent this, to mitigate the damage.”

The GOP blocked an insulin price cap: What it means for diabetics

The GOP blocked an insulin price cap: What it means for diabetics

The Senate passed a sweeping budget package Sunday intended to bring financial relief to Americans, but not before Republican senators voted to strip a proposal that would have capped the price of insulin at $35 per month for many patients.

A proposal that limits the monthly cost of insulin to $35 for Medicare patientswas left untouched. But using a parliamentary rule, GOP lawmakers were able to jettison the part of the proposal that would apply to privately insured patients.

Seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the broader price cap, but that wasn’t enough for passage. A number of Republican senators who voted for the proposal to be removed come from states with some of the highest mortality rates for diabetes, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Lowering the price of drugs such as insulin, which is used by diabetics to manage their blood sugar levels, is broadly popular with voters, polling shows. Senate Democrats denounced Republicans for voting against relief for Americans struggling to pay for the lifesaving drug.

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and about 7 million require insulin daily to manage their blood sugar levels.

Here’s what we know about how Americans would be affected by the Senate vote:

What would the insulin price cap do?

The insulin price cap, part of a larger package of proposals to cut prescription drug and other health-care costs, was intended to limit out-of-pocket monthly insulin costs to $35 for most Americans who use insulin.

More than 1 in 5 insulin users on private medical insurance pay more than $35 per month for the medicine, according to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The same analysis found that the median monthly savings for those people would range from $19 to $27, depending on their type of insurance market.

The average Medicare patient using insulin paid $54 for prescriptions, according to KFF, an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2007.

With the Republican vote to strip the provision, only Medicare recipients would be eligible for the cap. The legislation still must pass the House.

Why is insulin so expensive?

Insulin was discovered in Canada in the 1920s, and the researchers, who won the Nobel Prize, sold their patent to the University of Toronto for $3. Since then, the drug has become a major commercial enterprise.

The global insulin market is dominated by U.S.-based Eli Lilly, the French company Sanofi and the Danish firm Novo Nordisk. A report released in December by Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committeeaccused the drugmakers of repeatedly raising their prices in lockstep and working to “maintain monopoly pricing,” allegations the companies have denied.

In a statement, Novo Nordisk said the complexities of the U.S. health-care system influence the insulin market and that “many factors” determine what a person pays out of pocket for insulin. The company said net prices for its products have “continued to decline over the past 5 consecutive years.” A Sanofi spokesperson said in a statement that “despite rhetoric about insulin prices,” the net price of its insulin has fallen for seven straight years, “making our insulins significantly less expensive for insurance companies.”

Eli Lilly did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

generic insulin is slated to come on the market in 2024 and could help drive down prices.

Researchers also blame issues such as increasingly complicated supply chains for the dramatic rise in drug prices over the past decade. U.S. insulin prices are well above the average price paid in other developed countries, according to a government report.

A Yale University study found insulin is an “extreme financial burden” for more than 14 percent of Americans who use it. These people are spending more than 40 percent of their income after food and housing costs on the medicine.

What does this mean for uninsured patients and Medicaid recipients?

The legislation doesn’t limit the cost of insulin for uninsured patients, despite last-minute lobbying from some House lawmakers to add in such protections. Uninsured Americans with diabetes are more likely to be using less costly formulations of insulin compared with those on private insurance or Medicaid, yet they have a higher tendency to pay full price for the lifesaving medication,according to a 2020 report from the Commonwealth Fund, a health-care think tank.

For those on Medicaid, many don’t have co-pays for insulin, though some states may have modest amounts beneficiaries must pay, such as $2 for a standard prescription, according to Sherry Glied, dean of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

But in general, costs for those with diabetes can vary widely from person to person, except for those on Medicaid.

“There’s no average person with diabetes, right, and so no two people are managing their diabetes in the exact same way,” said Aaron Turner-Phifer, advocacy director for JDRF, an organization funding research into Type 1 diabetes. “Folks are taking different types of insulin, they’re taking them via pens, they’re taking them via pumps, some are using different devices. … The amount of insulin that they’re taking varies from person to person”

What are Republicans saying about the insulin price cap?

Many Republicans have opposed the $35 cap, saying the measure did not address the root problem of skyrocketing insulin prices. Instead, they said, it would force insurance companies to pass on the cost through premiums.

The cap would have also been a major win for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections in November, possibly feeding GOP opposition to the proposal.

Still, other Republicans decried what they have called “socialist” government interference in the free market. “Today it’s the government fixing the price on insulin,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “What’s next, gas? Food?”

Did President Donald Trump lower the price of insulin?

In 2020, President Donald Trump claimed that he had drastically lowered the price of insulin: “Insulin, it’s going to — it was destroying families, destroying people. The cost,” Trump said in a debate. “I’m getting it for so cheap it’s like water.” His statement drew criticism from patient advocates and people still struggling to afford their medication.

In 2020, drugmakers reduced the cost of insulin for some patients who lost jobs, health insurance or both as a result of the pandemic.

Trump signed an executive order to lower the price of insulin as one of his final health-care acts in office. The ruling was narrow, experts said, and would have lowered the cost of insulin for certain patients who go to certain federally qualified health centers.

It was rescinded by the Biden administration. Health officials said at the time that the rule would have imposed “excessive administrative costs and burdens” on health centers — and reduced resources for other health services.

Where have Democrats and Republicans stood historically on insulin prices?

Both Democrats and Republicans have blasted the high price of insulin, including in congressional hearings and in bipartisan investigations. But they’ve taken different approaches toward curbing the cost of the medicine.

Republicans have long proposed alternatives to Democrats’ drug-pricing measures. In the House, key GOP lawmakers have released plans to place a monthly $50 cap on insulin and its supplies for those in Medicare’s drug benefit after seniors hit their deductibles. In the Senate, top-ranking Republicans have crafted a bill to make permanent an existing temporary pilot project that gives those on Medicare the option to get a voluntary prescription drug plan where insulin costs $35 per month.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan pair of senators unveiled legislation in June aimed at tackling the cost of insulin, which was the result of months of work to forge a compromise. But the legislation hasn’t come up for a vote and faces daunting political odds in its quest to obtain 10 Republican votes to pass the bill in the Senate.

Evan Halper, Bryan Pietsch and Tony Romm contributed to this report.

If Trump broke a law on the removal of official records, would he be barred from future office?

If Trump broke a law on the removal of official records, would he be barred from future office?

Charlie Savage
Boxes were moved out of the Eisenhower Executive Office building inside the White House complex near the end of President Donald J. Trump’s term.
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

“Early reports that the F.B.I. search of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Florida related to an investigation into whether he had unlawfully taken government files when he left the White House focused attention on an obscure criminal law barring removal of official records. The penalties for breaking that law include disqualification from holding any federal office.

Because Mr. Trump is widely believed to be preparing to run for president again in 2024, that unusual penalty raised the prospect that he might be legally barred from returning to the White House.

Specifically, the law in question — Section 2071 of Title 18 of the United States Code — makes it a crime if someone who has custody of government documents or records “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies or destroys” them.

If convicted, defendants can be fined or sentenced to prison for up to three years. In addition, the statute says, if they are currently in a federal office, they “shall forfeit” that office, and they shall “be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”

On its face, then, if Mr. Trump were to be charged and convicted of removing, concealing or destroying government records under that law, he would seem to be ineligible to become president again.

But there was reason for caution: The law briefly received a close look in 2015, after it came to light that Hillary Clinton, then widely anticipated to be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, had used a private email server to conduct government business while secretary of state. 

Some Republicans were briefly entranced with whether the law could keep Mrs. Clinton out of the White House, including Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general in the administration of George W. Bush. So was at least one conservative think tank.

But in considering that situation, several legal scholars — including Seth B. Tillman of Maynouth University in Ireland and Eugene Volokh of the University of California, Los Angeles — noted that the Constitution sets eligibility criteria for who can be president, and argued that Supreme Court rulings suggest Congress cannot alter them. The Constitution allows Congress to disqualify people from holding office in impeachment proceedings, but grants no such power for ordinary criminal law.

Mr. Volokh later reported on his blog that Mr. Mukasey — who is also a former federal judge — wrote that “upon reflection,” Mr. Mukasey had been mistaken and Mr. Tillman’s analysis was “spot on.” (Mrs. Clinton was never charged with any crime related to her use of the server.)

On Monday, one of the most prominent voices pointing to Section 2071, the Democratic lawyer Marc Elias — who served as general counsel for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — initially cited the law’s disqualification provision in a Twitter post as “the really, really big reason why the raid today is a potential blockbuster in American politics.”

He followed up with another Twitter post acknowledging that any conviction under Section 2071 might not ultimately bar Mr. Trump from seeking the presidency again — but arguing that a legal fight over it would still be important.

“Yes, I recognize the legal challenge that application of this law to a president would garner (since qualifications are set in Constitution),” he wrote. “But the idea that a candidate would have to litigate this is during a campaign is in my view a ‘blockbuster in American politics.’”